On April 19th, an app named SafeHer will launch in cities nationwide this fall.1 The app is strikingly similar to ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft: download the app, provide your payment information, and request a ride. Yet SafeHer comes with one major difference—both drivers and passengers are exclusively women.2 The goal of the app is simple: providing safe travel for women, by women, who fear the risk of violent crimes in taxicabs or traditional ridesharing methods.3
The app’s creator, Michael Pelletz, may see himself as a real-life equivalent of the feminist-friendly Dev Shah from Aziz Ansari’s Master of None,4 but in reality, he may be breaking federal law. SafeHer, by design, may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law stops employers from hiring, or refusing to hire a person because of their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”5 It is fairly obvious, given SafeHer’s business model that their hiring practices would qualify as a prima facie violation of Title VII.6 However, SafeHer will argue that the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) exception applies here, saving the app from a Title VII violation.7
While the app’s purpose may be noble, noble intentions do not excuse discrimination. This short essay gives a four-part overview of the legal issues SafeHer will inevitably face, and argues that allowing SafeHer to fall under the BFOQ exception would overextend a purposefully narrow rule. Part I explains the BFOQ exception, and how it applies to a Title VII enforcement action. Part II argues that the plain text of the law does not support SafeHer. Part III explains that SafeHer will fail a multi-part test for establishing a BFOQ. Part IV will show examples of reasonable, nondiscriminatory alternatives available to SafeHer. The essay concludes by mentioning policy arguments for and against SafeHer, and arguing that ultimately, SafeHer does not have a place within the law.