It seems to be somewhat of an epidemic: Companies issuing press releases to celebrate their defiance of federal civil rights laws. The latest is the Alamo Drafthouse, which announced Wonder Woman screenings for women only. Let's celebrate womanhood! Or, Girl Power!
"Apologies, gentlemen, but we're embracing our girl power and saying 'No Guys Allowed' for one special night at the Alamo Ritz... And when we say 'People Who Identify As Women Only,' we mean it. Everyone working at this screening -- venue staff, projectionist, and culinary team -- will be female."
Sigh. Ladies (and gentlemen), you can't do this. You may think it's not a big deal, but it is a big deal. Just think if you changed the situation: "Apologies ladies, but we're embracing our guy power and saying 'No Girls Allowed.'" You'd freak.
Or maybe you wouldn't--maybe people should be allowed to hold events for whatever groups they want and have only certain people working. But, that's not what the law says, and we need to follow the law.
I don't know a great deal about public accommodation laws but New York specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in theaters. It's flat out illegal.
Kirsten Acuna at Business Insider thinks this is no problem. She praises the Alamo Drafthouse, in her article "Men are freaking out over women-only 'Wonder Woman' screenings -- and the theater had the perfect response." She quotes a bunch of responses from the Alamo Drafthouse where they say "this doesn't have a thing to do with equality" and "Very sorry if you feel excluded. We thought it might be kinda fun -- for one screening -- to celebrate a character who's meant a great deal to women for close to eight decades. Again, truly, truly, truly, truly sorry that we've offended you."
It doesn't matter whether you think it is "fun" or not, or whether you want this to be about equality or not, it's still illegal.
Public accommodation laws aside, let's talk employment law. For this event, it's women only employees.
There are times when you can hire only women or only men for a specific job as long as it's a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), when it's necessary to do the job. The courts specifically ruled that customer preferences don't matter. Can a man take tickets from males and females? Yes. Can a man run a popcorn machine? You betcha. Then it's illegal.
You might argue that because this is just for one night, and the company allows men to work for all other shifts, it's not a big deal. In the eternal scheme of things, it really shouldn't matter: it's one shift. But, I would never advise a company to take this legal risk. BFOQs are extremely restricted. HR.com describes the BFOQ defense as follows:
The BFOQ defense is very narrowly restricted to limited instances and shouldn''t be relied in most situations. In determining whether a discriminatory policy can be justified as a BFOQ, you must think about the nature of your business, the requirement of the specific job in question, and whether the discriminatory practice is necessary to preserving the normal operation and essence of your business. Would Hooters be Hooters if the person taking your drink order was a 300-pound man, or would it become a nondescript hamburger joint? Does the safe operation of a school bus reasonably require that the drivers be under age 65? Are drivers above that age more likely to get into accidents? Should male corrections officers in a female facility be limited to certain duties? Should police officers or firefighters be a certain age?
Would the Alamo Drafthouse still be a movie theater with men working? Yes. Therefore, it's not a legitimate defense.
If you want to attract or honor a specific group of people, you still need to follow federal and state laws. It doesn't matter what your motivation is.