‘WON­DER WOMAN’ TIFF COULD NET FREE DVDS

Women-only shows of ‘Won­der Woman’ broke bias law, the­ater ad­mits.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell efind­ell@states­man.com

Pro­mot­ing fe­male-only “Won­der Woman” screen­ings was a vi­o­la­tion of Austin’s equal­ity laws, the Alamo Draft­house ac­knowl­edged in a let­ter to the city last month.

To set­tle the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints, the Draft­house has of­fered to send each of the men who filed a com­plaint a DVD of the film.

The city pro­cessed two for­mal com­plaints against the the­ater for the two fe­male-only screen­ings in June, one from Al­bany, N.Y., law pro­fes­sor Stephen Clark and the other from an uniden­ti­fied man, claim­ing sex dis­crim­i­na­tion. City equal­ity laws ban a pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tion such as a movie the­ater from lim­it­ing its ser­vice, or in­di­cat­ing through ad­ver­tis­ing that it will limit it, based on race, sex, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or other fac­tors.

The Draft­house quickly sold out two June 6 screen­ings at its down­town Austin Ritz the­ater that it called “women-only,” not­ing: “we’re em­brac­ing our girl power and say­ing ‘No Guys Al­lowed’... And when we say ‘Peo­ple Who Iden­tify As Women Only,’ we mean it.”

In a set­tle­ment of­fer July 18, Missy Reynolds, direc­tor of real es­tate and devel­op­ment for the Draft­house, called that de­cree a “tongue in cheek moniker” and said the the­ater wouldn’t ac­tu­ally have de­nied men ad­mis­sion if any had pur­chased tick­ets. She em­pha­sized the Draft­house’s tra­di­tion of “im­mer­sive movie-go­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” cit­ing for ex­am­ple its “Jaws on the Wa­ter” show­ings of the fa­mous shark movies at Vo­lente Beach.

But the the­ater ad­mit­ted it made two mis­takes: un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the hub­bub the screen­ings would cre­ate and ad­ver­tis­ing them as women-only.

“Re­spon­dent did not re­al­ize that ad­ver­tis­ing a ‘women’s-only’ screen­ing was a vi­o­la­tion of dis­crim­i­na­tion laws,” the movie the­ater’s of­fer to the city says. “Re­spon­dent has a very strict non-dis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy in place, but this pol­icy did NOT in­clude a spe­cific pro­hi­bi­tion against ad­ver­tis­ing.”

The screen­ings re­ceived na­tion­wide at­ten­tion. They drew cel­e­bra­tion and praise from many fem­i­nists, a snarky open let­ter from Mayor Steve Adler to one critic and back­lash from others. In­stead of back­ing off, the Draft­house courted the con­tro­versy with cheeky re­sponses to on­line crit­ics and the ad­di­tion of women-only screen­ings in other ci­ties.

City records in­di­cate one of the men with a com­plaint pend­ing

of­fered to set­tle in ex­change for the the­ater chang­ing its dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies and pub­licly apol­o­giz­ing on Face­book. The other com­plainant asked the Draft­house to pay him $8,892 — roughly three times the es­ti­mated value of tick­ets and con­ces­sions for the women-only screen­ings.

The Draft­house re­sponded to both with the coun­terof­fer say­ing it would up­date its com­pany dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies us­ing “Won­der Woman” as a case study, share let­ters de­scrib­ing the men’s points of view with em­ploy­ees and send each man a “Won­der Woman” DVD.

An agree­ment has not yet been reached and ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing, said Gail McCant, Austin’s equal em­ploy­ment and fair hous­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor. The Draft­house would not an­swer ques­tions about the screen­ings or its set­tle­ment of­fer.

The back-and-forth is part of an in­for­mal set­tle­ment ef­fort al­lowed un­der the city code. If no agree­ment is reached, the city will in­ves­ti­gate the com­plaints, de­ter­mine whether the code was vi­o­lated and, if so, re­fer the mat­ter to city at­tor­neys for pos­si­ble pros­e­cu­tion.

It’s up to the com­plainants, not the city, to de­cide whether to ac­cept any set­tle­ment agree­ments in­stead of press­ing for­ward with a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We make no de­ci­sions,” McCant said. “The re­spon­dents and the charg­ing par­ties can re­spond; they can ac­cept; they can re­ject.”

At least eight peo­ple filled out com­plaint forms against the “Won­der Woman” screen­ings with Austin’s Equal Em­ploy­ment and Fair Hous­ing Of­fice, city of­fi­cials said. But only two fol­lowed that up with the for­mal no­ta­rized ver­sion re­quired for the com­plaint to be con­sid­ered.

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Michael Manning, dressed as Won­der Woman, waits for her friends in early June out­side the Alamo Draft­house Ritz be­fore two women-only show­ings of “Won­der Woman.”

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