A roommate-finding site cannot require users to disclose their sexual orientation, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday, in the latest skirmish over whether anti-discrimination rules apply to the Web.Only in America can a court find unlawful discrimination in a private, voluntary transaction between consenting adults.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Roommates.com, which obliges users to list their sexual orientation, was different than Internet sites where people can volunteer or withhold personal information.
To inquire electronically about sexual orientation would not be different from asking people in person or by telephone if they were black or Jewish before conducting business, the panel said in an 8-3 ruling that partly overturns a lower federal court decision.
"If such screening is prohibited when practiced in person or by telephone, we see no reason why Congress would have wanted to make it lawful to profit from it online," 9th Circuit chief judge Alex Kozinski wrote. "Not only does Roommate ask these questions, Roommate makes answering the discriminatory questions a condition of doing business."