Mandy Rodriguez from Escondido is an entrepreneur and a busy mom and step-mom of three kids. Five years ago, Rodriguez said she started a side business as a DJ, going by her stage name “DJ Mandy Mixes.”
In August 2017, Mandy organized what she said was a great, successful event. The event was advertised as "A Girls' Night Out Dance Party" at the SpringHill Suites in Oceanside, open to "ladies 21 and over" and Rodriguez said it sold out five weeks in advance.
“It was the opportunity to bring some women together to network and just do something a little bit different and fun,” she told NBC7 Investigates.
Six weeks later, Mandy said she was shocked when she and the hotel were sued, accused of being sexist towards men.
“I was very stressed out. There was a lot of crying, a lot of tears," Mandy said. "I actually went to a really dark place and it was scary, very scary.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Steve Frye, a man Mandy said she had never heard of before. Frye did not respond to NBC7 Investigates’ request for comment.
According to court documents, Frye tried to enter Mandy's "Girls’ Night Out Dance Party" but was told at the door that he "could not attend." NBC7 Investigates found Frye has filed 26 lawsuits in Southern California for discrimination.
The case involving Mandy settled last month for an undisclosed payment.
Claire Wasserman said she founded "Ladies Get Paid", a group that fights for equal pay and treatment for women.
“We're fighting for equality. The majority of people who hold power, those are men. Those are white men. What we're trying to do is equalize the balance, right? We want to see men and women getting paid equally. We want to see diversity in leadership,” Claire told NBC7 Investigates.
Last August, Claire said she held an event at the Red Door Restaurant in Mission Hills. According to court documents, Rich Allison said he went to the Red Door on the day of Claire’s event and was not given the same drink specials as women. Allison sued the restaurant and Claire Wasserman, claiming in the lawsuit that he was charged a "man tax."
Records show Allison has filed nine lawsuits, including the one against Claire and the Red Door Restaurant, in San Diego County. NBC7 Investigates was unable to reach Allison for comment.
“It's really awful that by me being strong and supporting women that I now have to be seen as like anti-man. That's really shortsighted,” Claire told NBC7 Investigates.
The lawsuit was settled last week for an undisclosed payment.
“They're silencing us and we don't even want to do events in California now,” Claire said.
Both Frye and Allison's lawsuits were filed by Point Loma attorney Alfred Rava.
Earlier this year, NBC 7 reported on a “Girl’s Empowerment Camp” organized by the city of San Diego that was briefly canceled in February after Rava claimed it violated anti-discrimination laws.
In a letter to the San Diego City Attorney’s and Mayor’s offices, Rava said he represented Rich Allison and that Allison was interested in signing up his son for the camp but was “deterred and prevented from timely enrolling his son in this camp because boys were not invited to attend, based solely on their sex.”
NBC7 Investigates reached out to Rava and he declined being interviewed on-camera.
In an email, Rava said, “The City did as I requested, rescheduling two camps this year and allowing boys to attend so they too could learn how to save lives and be whatever they wanted to be when they grow up. But the City insisted on keeping the sexist, exclusive title of 'Girls Empowerment Camp' despite how this title deterred parents from registering their sons for a 'Girls Empowerment Camp'.”
“What parent is going to register their son for a ‘Girls Empowerment Camp’?” Rava continued, “That would be like expecting me to register for an 'Overpaid Mayors’ Spokespersons Camp'.”
In his lawsuits and the letter to San Diego, Rava cited California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, and sexual orientation.
“I have been involved in about 300 Unruh Civil Rights Act sex discrimination cases as a plaintiff, an attorney of record, or as an attorney consulting with other attorneys who were the attorneys of record,” Rava said in an email to NBC7 Investigates, adding that he has represented both men and women in discrimination lawsuits.
Women that spoke with NBC7 Investigates said the Unruh Civil Rights Act was well-intended but is now being abused.
“I think that's a problem and it's potentially a problem with the law.” Attorney Amanda Allen, who represented Mandy Rodriguez said, “What I think we have is women and women's empowerment that's a benefit to society. And so we don't want to squash that.”
Frye, Allison, and Rava have all been members of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), a San Diego-based nonprofit whose members have been prominently involved in discrimination lawsuits.
According to the group’s website, NCFM has “…organized rallies, filed successful civil rights lawsuits and engaged in countless other forms of activism…”
NBC7 Investigates looked at the National Coalition for Men's public tax records and found from 2012 to 2016, the number of financial contributions to the group more than doubled.
Allan Candelore is a member of the National Coalition for Men. “Women may have got the short end of the stick historically in the past and now it's kind of swung and we have a lot of policies that tend to be anti-male,” he told NBC 7 Investigates.
Candelore said NCFM is a worldwide organization with several hundred members in San Diego alone.
“It's a wide, wide group mainly upper age men,” Candelore said.
Candelore said he's filed at least a dozen lawsuits, telling NBC7 Investigates, “If an event is going to take place and it's going to say that only, you know, white males are allowed to attend and no one else is allowed to attend, that's illegal. If you have an event that says only women are allowed to attend and no men, that's illegal. So ultimately someone broke the law.”
Now, some are fighting to amend that law. Mandy Rodriguez and her attorney, who took the case pro-bono, said even though their case settled, they plan to work with elected officials to possibly change the wording of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
“I think there could be a couple of ways to prevent this sort of impact on people trying to do socially beneficial things. And one of the ways is to amend this actual law,” Allen said.” We want to allow women to improve themselves within the workplace. And so that's these types of events, right? Where we're saying women should be able to get together and network and build a business.”