Swiped Left on Equality: Bumble Lawsuit Claims First-Move Mandate Stings Women's Rights

bumble female discrimination class action lawsuit

California Users Allege Dating App's Policy Perpetuates Gender Stereotypes, Violates Civil Rights Act

As a plethora of dating apps have come online over the last several years, each has tried to have its point of difference. For Bumble, another swipe-left-swipe-right style app, that difference is requiring women to make the first move and initiate contact with any matches. 

That requirement is designed to empower women, according to Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd. But to some would-be users who have just filed a lawsuit against the company, the requirement amounts to a discriminatory system based on sex- and sexual orientation informed by gender based stereotypes.

Making the first move

Christine Johnson and Diane Foster filed the proposed class action lawsuit against Bumble accusing the company of violating a number of California’s civil code laws, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act. 

The pair say Bumble’s requirement to have women make the first is discriminatory and negligent, and to justify the company falls back on stereotypes portraying females “as perpetual victims needing special emotional and psychological protection from an entire class of people – males.”

However, when people are in search of a same-sex relationship, both males and females, Bumble “assumes no such unsavory rude or sexually-forward behavior occurs” and allows either match to initiate contact.  

“This sort of class-based generalization as a justification for differential treatment is precisely the type of practice prohibited by the Unruh Act.”

Both women signed up to use Bumble in 2023 and 2024, but say in the lawsuit that on discovering the “discriminatory terms” they opted to not use the matchmaking app. 

“Many women, including Plaintiffs, are uncomfortable making the first move and would prefer to be approached by a man after expressing her initial interest by matching with him. Many, if not most, heterosexual women who match with men online want to be pursued, not to be the pursuers,” according to the lawsuit.

How dating apps work

Over recent years, dating apps and online matchmaking have become one of the most common ways for couples to meet and build relationships. Fifty-two percent of Americans who have never been married have tried apps and one-third of marriages are between couples introduced online, according to research published in the Harvard Data Science Review.

Some of the most popular dating apps include:

  • Tinder
  • Bumble
  • Hinge
  • OkCupid
  • eHarmony
  • Raya
  • Serious Relationships
  • Coffee Meets Bagel

While all the apps offer something slightly unique, they all aim to connect individuals based on shared interests and potential compatibility by leveraging user-provided data, algorithms and machine learning. A very common style in the dating app game is having to swipe between users and select the accounts of people you are interested in, if they make the same selection on your account, it’s a match. From there, messaging can begin.

Protections from discrimination

There are a number of laws that protect Americans from discrimination, the first and foremost being the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 

In California, there is also the Unruh Civil Rights Act which provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in the state because of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. 

According to the state government, violations of the act could include: a hotel charging a $100 service fee only to guests of a certain racial group, a doctor refusing to treat a patient who has been diagnosed as HIV positive, a same-sex couple is denied a table at a restaurant even though there are vacant tables available, charging men and women different prices for comparable services, promoting a business with “ladies night” discounts on admission and services.

Dating apps take the heat

This isn’t Bumble’s first time facing problems for its first move requirements. In 2022, the company settled a lawsuit filed by males accusing it of discriminating against them and violating The Unruh Civil Rights Act. While Bumble maintained its innocence, the lawsuit was settled and the plaintiffs got a $3.26 million payout.

Users of dating app Snack sued its parent company Meet Muse Media, accusing the company of age discrimination because it won't allow singles older than 35 to sign up. 37-year-old plaintiff Geoffrey Taylor said the lawsuit the app told him it "looks like you're past our sell-by date." 

Meanwhile, dating app giant Tinder has also faced legal action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It recently narrowly dodged having to pay a $5.2 million settlement over allegations its pricing scheme was discriminatory, charging users older than 29 more than its younger users. The settlement was tossed after the lead plaintiff was found to be inadequate to represent the class.

In the Bumble proposed class action lawsuit, Johnson and Foster want to represent app users from California. They are seeking injunctive relief, damages, and costs.

The plaintiff and proposed class is represented by Greg Adler of Greg Adler P.C.  

The Bumble female discrimination proposed class action lawsuit is Johnson et al. v. Bumble Trading, LLC et al., Case No. 5:24-cv-00740-KK-SHK in the United States District Court Central District of California Eastern Division.



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