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Woodmere resident seeks redress for alleged inequality and fiscal loss

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Dame Products, co-founded by Woodmere resident Alexandra Fine, is suing the Metropolitan Transit Authority for alleged violations of free speech, due process and equal protection concerning the advertising of the company’s sex toys for women.

Fine is the chief executive officer and co-founder of the Brooklyn-based startup founded in 2014 with Janet Lieberman-Lu. Dame aims to address fundamental inequalities between men and women in heterosexual encounters.

Dame initially contacted the MTA in July 2018 to discuss advertising on trains, buses and facilities. In December of that year, the MTA decided that the advertisements would not run because they promote a sexually oriented business, which is prohibited by its advertising standards.

The court complaint filed on June 18 of this year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, addressed the timeline of the ad pitch. “In July 2018, Dame submitted advertisements to the MTA for approval. The MTA then strung Dame along for six months,” it said. “In that time, Dame spent approximately $150,000 of its scant resources to incorporate the MTA’s feedback, submit revised advertisements, and order additional inventory, all in reliance on the MTA’s representation that it would accept Dame’s materials.” The MTA denied the advertisements in December 2018 since they included captions such as “Toys for sex” and “You come first,” according to the complaint.

Fine sent a letter to the MTA in December 2018 expressing her dissatisfaction with the advertisements being denied. “That’s why this change of heart comes as a surprise to us. The ads we submitted were tasteful, attractive and above all, honest,” Fine said. “There were no scantily-clad bodies, no bawdy puns, and no disingenuous claims.” 

Maxwell Young, chief spokesman for the MTA, said that Dame’s accusations are inaccurate. “We have not been served with a lawsuit and cannot comment on it directly, but their public statements are clearly inaccurate as the MTA’s advertising is in no way gender-based or viewpoint discriminatory,” Young wrote in an email. “The MTA’s FAQs about its advertising policy clearly states that advertisements for sex toys or devices for any gender are not permitted, and advertising for FDA approved medication — for either gender — is permitted.”

Fine noted that the rejection from the MTA has also damaged Dame financially. “I also want to make it clear that by rejecting a campaign we’ve been working on for months, We’ve been set back financially,” she said. “We’re a female-owned, majority-minority company, and a jewel in Brooklyn’s startup scene, contributing to New York’s tax base while employing women and minorities in STEM positions.” STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Young said that the MTA plans to fight the planned lawsuit. “In its proprietary capacity as the operator of a transit system used by all New Yorkers, the MTA is constitutionally entitled to draw reasonable content-based distinctions between different types of advertisements and to consider its diverse customers,” he stated. “We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and will be represented by the preeminent First Amendment lawyer Victor Kovner and his colleagues.”