Online dating company eHarmony will make its site as welcoming to gay singles as it is to other customers looking for dates under a proposed settlement filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs -- a certified class of Californians who tried to use the service but found that it wouldn't connect them with same-sex dates -- claimed a civil rights victory in putting the eHarmony technology to work serving gay customers more inclusively.
"At a time when there is a rift in the state on various gay rights issues, we were able to find a settlement that balances the needs of everybody involved," said Todd Schneider of San Francisco's Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky. Joshua Konecky of Schneider Wallace and San Francisco solo Jeremy Pasternak were also co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
Under the agreement, the company admits no wrongdoing or liability, according to the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary approval of the settlement. The company had already created an online same-sex matching service called Compatible Partners last year, as the result of a settlement with the New Jersey attorney general over a discrimination suit there. Tuesday's agreement calls for some changes to the eHarmony and Compatible Partners sites to make them more welcoming for gay and lesbian customers.
In addition, the settlement includes a little more than $500,000 for class members, about $4,000 for each of the estimated 130 class members. On top of that, the deal would also award up to $1.3 million in attorneys' fees, about 86 percent of the lodestar fees incurred, according to the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary approval submitted to Judge Ann Jones.
"The concern that we had with Compatible Partners was that it was so far distant from eHarmony," Schneider said. "We felt it made it look like they were sending you to a different company."
The Pasadena, Calif.-based company will add the eHarmony logo to the Compatible Partners site and include a link for "Gay Dating" on eHarmony.com, which already includes links to specialized dating such as "Senior Dating" and "Hispanic Dating."
Bisexual singles will also be able to look for dates with both men and women by paying a single subscription fee.
Robert Freitas, a partner in Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe's Silicon Valley office who represented eHarmony, said in a press release released by the plaintiffs that the company is "happy to move beyond this litigation so it can continue building Compatible Partners into a successful service." The settlement was reached through a series of negotiations, including four separate mediation sessions, and three settlement conferences with Los Angeles County Judge Carolyn Kuhl, the motion for preliminary approval noted.