A class action transferred to federal court in San Francisco alleges that the Plenty of Fish dating site unfairly discriminates against its users based on age and gender.

POF is a dating site for adults, founded in Vancouver in 2003, and, according to the company, is used by four million people a day. POF is indirectly owned by Match Group, Inc., the same company that owns Tinder, Match.com, and OKCupid, among others.

The plaintiffs — two men and two women who use the POF site — assert discrimination against two groups of users. They say that all users are discriminated against on the basis of age, and women users are discriminated against based on their gender.

The complaint, which was transferred March 10, asks the court to certify a class of all California residents who have used POF on or after approximately Dec 1, 2021, and second class of California women who were users in the same period.

The allegations of discrimination are based on the way the POF site screens the people with whom a user can connect.

When a new user signs up to the service, he or she creates an account and provides information that is used to search among other users for potential matches. Age is one of the many different types of preferences a user can specify. Using a slider button, the user sets the minimum and maximum age for potential partners.

Using the preference information, the site searches for other members who match the user’s preferences. The site then displays potential matches to a user.

Tech knows best

According to the complaint, the site’s search engine contains an age range filter, which in some circumstances overrides the user’s preference.

The complaint does not specify the parameters of the alleged age range filter.

However, according to the website VIDA Select, a matchmaking service that manages dating applications for its clients, POF’s “age filter automatically adjusts to singles within +/- 14 years of your age if you specify a huge range. You can refine your age search within that time frame, but you can’t exceed it.”

That would appear to mean that if a 50-year-old user specifies that he or she is interested in matching with people aged from 20 to 40 years old, the search engine would impose its own age filter and screen out anyone under the age of 36. The user then would not be able to see possible matches with people between the age of 20 and 36.

VIDA Select advises potential clients that “If your heart’s set on early 20s and you’re north of that by a few decades,” you should check out dating sites specifically for “sugar daddies” and “cougars.”

The complaint alleges that each of the four plaintiffs “searched for matches outside of the age range permitted by the website’s search engine and were thus prevented from viewing potential matches covering their entire desired age ranges.”

According to the complaint, this feature results in aged-based discrimination in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. Among other things, the act bars business establishments from discriminating against California residents on the basis of age or gender.

The plaintiffs also assert that the practice violates California unfair competition laws because POF has allegedly “obtained valuable property, money and services from” the members of the proposed class, depriving them of “valuable rights and benefits guaranteed by the law.” The complaint goes on to say that POF’s acts are “immoral, unethical, oppressive, and unscrupulous, and constitute unfair and unlawful business practices.”

Not enough fish in the sea

With respect to women users, the plaintiffs have a different theory, which they assert on the basis of “information and belief.”

Generally, allegations in a complaint are based on the actual knowledge of the plaintiffs and must be attested by them to be true and correct. However, if information is not actually known to the plaintiffs but believed to be true after an investigation, plaintiffs may assert the facts to be true based “on information and belief.”

On that basis, plaintiffs allege that the age range applied by the site’s search engine is “narrower for women than men,” though the complaint does not say how much narrower.

The complaint uses that allegation to argue that because of the narrower age range, women on POF get a smaller group of potential matches than similarly situated men. Plaintiffs allege this is discrimination based on gender in violation of California law.

Plaintiffs seek money damages of not less than $4,000 per class member. They also seek to recover their legal fees in prosecuting the action. While the number of members of the potential classes are unknown, plaintiffs assert that the amount at issue is in excess of $5 million.

The lawsuit was initially filed in the Superior Court for San Mateo County, but was “removed” to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Removal is the legal term for the right of a defendant to move a case to federal court if it could have been filed there originally.

Attempts to contact lawyers for the plaintiffs and POF for comment on the matter were unsuccessful.