A man from Wales, UK, has successfully sued craft beer producers Brewdog for £1,000 ($1,260) after claiming that the company discriminated against him based on his gender. Dr Thomas Bower, 27, brought the suit after he was refused the right to purchase the brand’s “Pink IPA” at a bar in Cardiff on a night out in 2018. The incident has sparked intense debate and called into question what companies are and aren’t allowed to do to push their product.
According to Bower, the issue began when bar staff prevented him from purchasing the Pink IPA, which was on sale for a discounted price of £4. As Bower describes it, there was a “back and forth” with the bartender, before he felt compelled to identify as female in order to buy the drink as advertised. In the words of the judge adjudicating on the case, the incident was “not a pleasant experience for him” and had left Bower “humiliated”.
Bower himself elaborated further on his treatment in a public statement. “I complained to the company about (being made to identify as female) and they said it wasn’t discrimination because the price difference was part of a national campaign to raise awareness about the gender pay gap. Not satisfied with this, I complained again to Brewdog stating that I was intending to take them to court over this but would rather resolve the problem outside court. They ignored this.”
The “national campaign” mentioned by Bower refers to an effort from Brewdog to draw attention to the gender pay gap in the United Kingdom. As agreed by experts across multiple fields, salary analysis shows that men are paid an average of 20 per cent more than women. Though prejudice against anyone based on their gender has been illegal for many years, the gender pay gap shows that businesses continue to employ more men in higher-paid positions. Women therefore continue to suffer a form of subtler, but no less damaging, discrimination in the workplace. This is true across almost every industry in the country.
In an attempt to raise awareness of the situation, Brewdog decided to introduce their own “Beer for Girls” campaign last year. The company’s plan was to “expose sexist marketing to women, particularly within the beer industry” by offering a special pink beer at a 20 per cent discounted rate, available exclusively to anyone identifying as a woman. At the time, Brewdog labelled the decision an “overt parody on the failed, tone-deaf campaigns that some brands have attempted in order to attract women”. While the campaign ultimately attracted its own criticism for supposedly perpetuating rather than subverting sexism, it was hoped that the move would nonetheless draw attention to the 20 per cent tariff found throughout wider society.
However, after the court’s decision, it is clear that the business’ plan has somewhat backfired. In Bower’s testimony, he alleged that the campaign involved "direct discrimination and [a] breach of the Equality Act 2010,” before going on to assert that “[I] felt forced to lie about my sex in order to receive the product at the lower price and told the bartender that I identified as female. The bartender then served me the drink at a price of £4.”
The Metro reports that, in his closing statement, District Judge Phillips concluded: "In my judgment, it is clear that in this case the claimant has been directly discriminated against by the defendant because of his sex. The fact that by identifying as female he was still able to purchase a Pink IPA makes no difference. I accept what Dr Bower says, namely that identifying as female was the only way he could purchase a Pink IPA at a cost of £4.” Brewdog’s lawyers claimed that since Dr Bower said he identified as female, he did not receive different treatment and was ultimately able to purchase the drink. However, the court still decreed that the company should pay him £1,000 ($1,260) in damages.
Given that the Brewdog campaign was created to raise awareness of a crucial social issue, Bower’s victory might leave a sour taste in the mouth for some. Though there were certainly problems with the brand’s approach, they were at least attempting to discuss the gender pay gap. However, despite his success in court, Bower claims that he “does not deny the existence” of the problem, but instead believes that there should be “equal opportunities over equal outcome”.
Bower also added that, "after taking into account my costs, I donated equal amounts of this award to the Young Women's Trust, which aims to help women negotiate for better pay, and the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which runs a male suicide prevention line, among other things". Wherever you stand on the ruling, the case certainly sets an interesting precedent for future businesses who want to address social injustices.