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Panel Kills Ban on Gender-Based Pricing at Dry Cleaners

By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Kinsey Liebsch asked state legislators a question often raised by women who take their clothes to a dry cleaner or laundry service.

“Given that a woman’s long sleeve blouse isn’t much different from a man’s shirt, why am I being charged more than two and half times the amount just because the buttons are on the opposite side?” she asked a legislative subcommittee. Liebsch said dry-cleaning and laundry services can charge more to clean women’s clothing than comparable men’s clothing.

Liebsch initially took her concerns to her local legislator — Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. Then Levine filed a bill to ban gender-based price discrimination by apparel-cleaning services.

“Every woman I’ve talked to about this bill has said it was necessary,” Levine said. “Every man I’ve talked to about it didn’t realize it was an issue. And to be fair, I didn’t realize it was an issue until Kinsey brought it to me.”

But last week, Levine’s legislation was hung out to dry: Subcommittee No. 2 of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously to table HB 2423.

Liebsch and two other women testified before the subcommittee in support of the bill.

One of the women was Dr. Elizabeth Hendricks, an Alabama native who moved to Virginia two years ago. She recalled her experience getting a dress-suit cleaned at an Alexandria dry cleaner.

Hendricks described the article of clothing as a “dress and jacket that matched as a suit.” The price listed for a suit cleaning was $13.50, but Hendricks was charged $22 because her dress was not considered “short.”

“Slacks and a suit are not short either,” said Hendricks, who stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall.

HB 2423 would have ensured that prices for cleaning services for similar items do not vary because of a person’s gender. The bill said price differences are acceptable if one item takes longer to clean or poses more difficulty than another.

“Everyone understands that a wedding dress is going to cost more to clean than a groom’s tux,” Levine said.

The Virginia Retail Federation opposed the bill and said apparel-cleaning services do not base their prices on a customer’s gender.

“They base their pricing on material,” said Kate Baker, the federation’s director of government affairs. “Our members feel like they should be able to determine their own prices.”

The all-male subcommittee voted 6-0 to kill Levine’s bill. It happened the day after a proposal to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment died in the House of Delegates. Levine said his bill was “just one tiny example of why we need the ERA.”

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