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Discrimination debate: Women-only hotel floors

The new Marriott hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich., said it will set aside its 19th floor for women only.   But does it discriminate against men? Lawyer Gloria Allred and talk show host Donny Deutsch square off on the issue.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

When a hotel sets aside a floor and a lounge for women only, is it discrimination or good business?

As TODAY co-host Matt Lauer discovered, it might be both, depending on whom you ask.

“It is discrimination,” said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. “You are excluding men from the lounge. Are we going to have male-only lounges as we used to have? No. What we want are equal rights. Not more rights, not less rights, but equal rights.”

“Of course it’s for the bottom line,” countered Donny Deutsch of CNBC’s The Big Idea. It’s also a great idea, he added. “They’re in the business of helping and serving their customers. This is catering to women’s needs. It’s hospitality. What is wrong?”

The discussion was sparked when the new Marriott hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich., said it will set aside its 19th floor for women only. For an extra $30 a night, women will get such amenities as special hair dryers and toiletries.

They also get a women-only lounge where they can enjoy a drink without worrying about men hitting on them.

Growing trend or bad idea?
It will not be a first. The Crowne Plaza in Bloomington, Minn., also has a women-only floor.

“Women love the concept,” hotel executive Dhaval Brahmbhatt told NBC’s Janet Shamlian. “They love the security features of the floor. They love the amenities, and women just like to be pampered with the service.”

Allred, whom Time Magazine called "one of the nation's most effective advocates of family rights and feminist causes," didn’t argue those points, asking instead if we want to go back to the days when men used similar arguments to defend facilities set aside for only them.

“What’s next?” she asked. “Are we going to have whites-only floor for Ku Klux Klan members who have racial stereotypes about minorities and don’t want to be near them?”

“You know this is different from a black and a white floor,” Deutsch countered. “Women and men are different.”

The trouble with that thinking, Allred said, is that the same argument could be made for men-only floors and lounges. “That’s what could happen next,” she said. “Men who don’t want to do business with women because they don’t take women seriously are going to want a male-only lounge.”

Deutsch said that might not be a bad idea.

“You’d get in trouble with a men’s floor,” he admitted, “but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”

Until 1970, there were men-only lounges. The most famous was McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan, which finally allowed women to cross the threshold when ordered to do so by the courts.

“Business establishments have to be open to everyone,” Allred said.

Women say they feel more secure on a floor that is off-limits to men, but Allred said that “goes back to stereotyping of men: Men as sexual predators, women as fragile, needing to be protected. We don’t need to go back to the '50s where we had this kind of stereotyping.”