Legal advice: The battle of the sexes

Related tags Discrimination

Giving female customers preference may break the Philip Henson of's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson...

Giving female customers preference may break the law.

by Philip Henson of's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.

Advertisements offering special incentives to attract women to pubs and nightclubs are often seen in newspapers and on our high streets. Such offers may breach sex discrimination laws and it is important to modify and review promotional material to ensure that you are acting in accordance with the law.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA), makes it unlawful for pubs and nightclubs which are open to the public to discriminate on the grounds of sex when providing goods, facilities and services, even if they are provided without charge.

The SDA is written in terms of discrimination against both men and women and there are various remedies that can be sought, for example, an order that the discriminator stop the discrimination or an order for payment of compensation. Claims can also be brought in the county court.

The SDA prohibits direct and indirect sex discrimination. Direct sex discrimination is less favourable treatment of a woman than a man (or vice versa) on the grounds of their sex. Indirect sex discrimination occurs when a condition is applied equally to both women and men but, in fact, it affects more women than men (or vice versa) and it is not justifiable as being genuinely necessary.

The current reading of the law is that genuinely private members clubs are not covered by the SDA. This has allowed some members clubs, such as golf clubs to maintain rules discriminating against women. For example, women are often restricted from entering a particular bar within a club.

However, it is possible that this interpretation of the SDA could be reconsidered in light of the Human Rights Act.

As a matter of good practice it is recommended that publicans develop an equal opportunities policy with a clear statement of their policies and put in place evaluation procedures, especially for advertisements and promotional material.

If you wish to find out more visit or you can telephone 0845 601 5901 to speak to an Equal Opportunities Commission adviser.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can a pub refuse to serve a woman a drink in a pint glass?

If a publican serves drinks in pint glasses to men but not to women then this would be a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA).

Is it unlawful for a newspaper to publish an advertisement for a nightclub that grants entry to women free of charge but charges men?

Any published "advertisement" which suggests an intention to discriminate in this way, would itself be unlawful.

Anyone can complain to an advertiser or publisher if they think an advertisement is unlawful. Under the SDA only the Equal Opportunities Commission has the power to bring legal action against advertisers or publishers.

However, anybody can make a complaint to either the advertiser or the publisher. "Advertisements" are defined very broadly in the SDA and include, for example, television and radio advertisements, signs and circulars.

Can a nightclub admit women free of charge or give them vouchers for free or reduced priced drinks?

Attracting women customers by offering free entry or giving them vouchers for free or reduced priced drinks, but charging men an entrance fee and higher priced drinks, would be a breach of the SDA.

Can a pub refuse to admit large all-male groups?

A policy which automatically bars large all-male groups but not large all-female groups would be unlawful.

Related topics Legislation

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