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Don't Ask, Can Tell: Sexual Orientation Screening On the Web

Don't Ask, Can Tell: Sexual Orientation Screening On the Web


Roommates.com cannot require users looking for roommates to list their sexual orientation. A federal appeals court just ruled that antidiscrimination rules apply to the Internet.

The panel ruled 8-3 that inquiring electronically about sexual orientation is no different than asking someone in person or over the phone whether they are black or Jewish.

Users can offer additional information, including sexual orientation, but the current practice is illegal because "Roommate makes answering the discriminatory questions a condition of doing business." The ruling does not stop users from asking potential roommates about their sexual orientation.

The dissenting judges thought that the "expansion of liability for Internet service providers threatens to chill the robust development of the Internet." Basically — we better not regulate the Internet, or it will stop growing.

Since the Fair Housing Act prohibits such screening in person or over the phone, does it make sense that it also applies to the Internet?

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