NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new lawsuit asks why New York City’s subway accepts advertisements depicting erectile dysfunction, bare buttocks, inflatable plastic breasts, “Kyng”-sized condoms and cactuses shaped like phalluses, but is refusing ads for women’s sex toys.
Dame Products, a women-owned startup that promises to “close the pleasure gap” for women by selling “toys, for sex,” sued the Metropolitan Transit Authority on Tuesday, accusing it of sexism and illegal censorship for refusing its ads since last November.
The complaint faulted the MTA for deciding to “privilege male interests” through irrational, arbitrary advertising choices that violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing free speech.
It said these have included allowing ads from bedding company Brooklinen featuring sexual double entendres, and a travel booker urging travelers to “Get Wet (on the beach, not from the guy next to you).”
Dame said the MTA even allowed an ad sponsored by the city’s health department for the “Kyng”-sized condoms.
MTA spokesman Maxwell Young said in a statement that the agency is “constitutionally entitled to draw reasonable content-based distinctions” among ads, including by banning ads for sex toys, and that its ad policy “in no way” discriminates based on gender or viewpoint. He said the MTA intends to defend against the lawsuit.
MTA Chief Executive Pat Foye and Janno Lieber, an official overseeing the agency’s ad policy, are also defendants.
“The MTA is living in a Victorian era,” Richard Emery, a lawyer for Dame, said in an interview. “It has a male-oriented censorship scheme that is discriminating against women’s sexual pleasure, and emphasizing male control of women’s sexuality.”
Dame, he added, “has nothing titillating about its ads.”
The complaint filed in Manhattan federal court seeks unspecified damages, and to require the MTA to run Dame’s ads.
New York City’s subway in 2017 carried about 5.58 million riders on an average weekday, and 1.73 billion riders overall.
The subway occasionally faces lawsuits over its refusal to place ads, including those containing political content.
Tuesday’s complaint suggested possible sympathy for Dame from Andy Byford, president of the New York City Transit Authority, after Dame Chief Executive Alexandra Fine wrote to him about the MTA’s resistance to her ads.
“While I can’t change the whole MTA, I am determined to make my bit, New York City Transit, responsive and transparent,” Byford responded, adding: “I cringed when I read of your experience.”
Emery said: “It sounds like Andy Byford is at least reasonable about this, and frustrated with his own bureaucracy.”
The case is Dame Products v Metropolitan Transit Authority et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-05649.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Howard Goller