Info You Can Use: Age Related Discounts May Be Illegal

Hat tip to Thomas Cott at You’ve Cott Mail for making us aware that attempts to attract younger audiences through special pricing may be a form of age discrimination. The D.C. Office of Human Rights has determined the special pricing offered to young people at 30-35 years old are a form of age discrimination.

What this specifically applies to are practices by theatres like Arena Stage and Kennedy Center. I wrote about the Arena Stage’s plan (toward bottom) back in May and felt Chad Bauman’s blog post on how he was implementing it gave theatre people a lot to think about.

Now there is some cause for rethinking.

The D.C. Office of Human Rights asked for a justification for the pricing and determined it was not sufficient to warrant the exemption senior citizens enjoy.

“The report says that the theaters had not demonstrated that the discounts are justified by business necessity, because patrons older than 35 do not have the same opportunity to buy tickets at a reduced rate.

It does offer the thought, though, that there may be an emerging need for discounts to young professionals, particularly given many young adults do not begin their careers until they are at least 25 to 30 years old, and face other financial challenges.

The report recommends that pricing be broadened so that the same type of discounts are available for those 30-64. It does not appear that the office plans to enforce the recommendations by following up further with theaters to see if changes are made.”

While the article says the D.C. office may not monitor compliance, this is a practice that may come under scrutiny elsewhere. Like Ladies’ Nights discounts at bars, there is theoretically the potential that all age based discounts in every situation including restaurants and retail sales might come under review. (Finally, I can order off the kids’ menu!) The article doesn’t say what the basis for senior citizen exemption is. An earlier article quotes the head of the D.C. Office of Human Right as saying:

“Students and seniors may not have the means for a full ticket, so it is reasonable you offer discounts to those segments,” Velasquez said. “With this situation, if you’re a professional who is 34 years old? I am not sure. That’s the reason behind the inquiry.”

I can’t believe that is the entirety of the rationale for allowing it especially since they apparently rejected the idea early careerists would need it based on income or the lack of arts education schools. If income is a prime factor in exempting senior citizens, there is a chance that someone could use the median wealth of retiring baby boomers compared to that of their parents as the basis of arguing that it is as erroneous to assume they need a discount as it is a 34 year old professional.

Pricing isn’t and shouldn’t be the only method by which to attract younger audiences, but it is a pretty powerful motivator. There may be other ways to structure attractive pricing to the same segment of the population based on or complemented by some other criteria. The Office of Human Rights only rejected the reasoning the theatres submitted. That doesn’t mean a compelling line of reasoning doesn’t exist.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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