Steve Frye, an Orange County resident, filed a discrimination claim with the Department of Fair and Equal Housing against Eagle Rock Brewery for hosting monthly women-only beer forums. Frye, a member of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), claimed that he had been discriminated against under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a state law that prohibits the discrimination of any person based on “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status.” Though Frye initially asked for $8,000, he eventually settled for $1,500 and a stipulation allowing men to attend the beer forums, according to Ting Su, co-founder of Eagle Rock Brewery and creator of the Women’s Beer Forum. Eagle Rock Brewery declined to take the case to court as they could not afford the legal fees, Su said.
Su said that the Unruh Act allows individuals to file complaints against businesses without much risk involved.
“By [Steve Frye] reaching out to us and him filing through the Department of Fair and Equal Housing, he never had to pay an attorney, so nothing came out of pocket for him,” Su said. “Leaving us with having to pay him and having to pay a year’s worth of legal fees. These people that can have zero skin in the game and just be like, ‘Oh hey, they should give me money,’ and fill out a piece of paper, send it in and have it be so.”
Frye declined to comment on the situation but referred The Occidental to his attorney, Alfred Rava. Frye has filed complaints against other California businesses due to sexual discrimination, such as the Playboy Enterprise for letting women attend a $1,000 event for free, Cha Cha’s Latin kitchen for hosting a “Ladies Night” and Donald Trump’s golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes for offering women a reduced price on drinks for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In an email, Rava said that his client was pleased about the outcome of the complaint, but still has some issue with the name of the event.
“Mr. Frye got an excellent result because his main goal was to convince Eagle Rock Brewery to no longer treat male and female consumers unequally based solely on their sex, and as a result of Mr. Frye’s DFEH action, Eagle Rock [Brewery] will now allow both men and women to attend its Women’s Beer Forum,” Rava said via email. “Mr. Frye regrets that Eagle Rock has not changed the name of the forum to the more inclusive “Women & Men’s Beer Forum” or the “Everyone’s Beer Forum, No Matter Your Sex” so that male consumers, such as men of color like Mr. Frye, single dads and disabled male members of our military are not deterred from attending a women-only-sounding entitled event.”
Frye reached out to the brewery Nov. 7, 2017, in an email and asked if men could attend the forums, which the Brewery has hosted since 2011.
“Hi. Wanted to find out if Women’s Beer Forum: Nov. 15 @ 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM at the brewery was just ladies only or can guys also join in. Thx Steve,” Frye said via email.
Melissa Gonzales, a bartender at Eagle Rock Brewery, replied later that day that the forum was open to women only, though she welcomed Steve to visit the brewery without attending the forum.
“Good morning Steve. Eagle Rock Brewery’s Women’s Beer Forum is women only. We hold our forums in the brewhouse which is separate from the taproom. You are more [than] welcome to come hang out in the taproom while the forum is going on. Let me know if you have any more questions, have a great day,” Gonzalez responded via email.
Su said that the brewery initially had no policy on letting men attend the women’s forum, though they had hosted male speakers in the past and had men attend the event. According to Su and Jeremy Raub, co-founder of Eagle Rock Brewery and Su’s husband, Frye showed up a couple of hours before the event and asked if he could go into the room where the event took place, but he was told he could not as it had not started.
“He never said, ‘Can I buy a ticket to the Women’s Beer Forum?’ It was almost like fishing, he was trying to draw out a denial of service but he never actually got one,” Raub said. “He got a beer, took a sip of it and sat in the corner for a minute on his phone, and then said ‘Oh, I’m going to have a cigarette,’ and then just never came back. We were all just like, ‘That was weird!’”
According to Raub and Su, they later received a letter with Frye’s initial sum for settlement with his complaint to the Department of Fair and Equal Housing attached. Raub said that he tried to reach out to Frye to make amends, but was not able to sway Frye’s decision to file a complaint.
“I had responded to him with a phone call and email. Like with any other customer complaint, I was trying to resolve it, like, ‘Hey, I’m sorry about the experience that you had, but come back in, we can easily accommodate you,’” Raub said. “It was frustrating that there seemed to be no intent of having it resolved, and it was only meant to be a monetary demand.”
Harry Crouch, president of NCFM, a San Diego-based group, said that he was not aware of the complaint Frye had filed but supported any work that combated sexual discrimination in cases such as these.
“In our society today, women seem to think that they can violate the law at will and then get upset when somebody complains about it. That’s just absurd. In the state of California, that is clearly illegal under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It’s clearly wrong,” Crouch said. “We [NCFM] believe in fairness and equal treatment, much more so than any feminist movements ever believed.”
Su said that the brewing community has been extremely supportive in the months following the incident, but that the legal complications have taken up a lot of time and money. According to Su, her intention with creating the beer forum was simply to increase diversity within the brewing industry, a field mostly dominated by white men. According to Su, Eagle Rock Brewery will continue to combat organizations such as the NCFR so that other businesses will not have to undergo the process that they did. Su created a gofundme.com page with an initial goal of $10,000 for legal fees and the settlement, but as people continued to donate they increased the target to $25,000.
“We are continuing to raise funds, we are continuing to try to find ways to amend the legislation so that we can close the loophole that allows these men’s rights activist to continue to target women’s group and targeting minority groups.”