Online US dating service eHarmony.com has agreed to set up a website for gays and lesbians seeking partners after being accused of discrimination by a gay man in New Jersey state.
Under the terms of a settlement agreement announced on Wednesday by the Division on Civil Rights of New Jersey's Attorney General's Office, eHarmony will begin providing same-sex matching services next year.
"The relationship Web site agrees to provide a new service for match-seekers identifying themselves as 'male seeking a male' or 'female seeking a female' by March 31, 2009," the Division on Civil Rights said in a statement.
"The company also agrees to ensure that same-sex users are matched via the same or equivalent technology as that used for heterosexual match-seekers," the statement added.
The agreement came more than three years after Eric McKinley, a gay match-seeker from New Jersey, filed a discrimination complaint against eHarmony.
The Division on Civil Rights conducted an investigation and ruled in 2007 that it had probable cause to uphold the allegations made by McKinley.
"As part of the settlement, eHarmony, Inc. will provide a free, one-year membership to Eric McKinley," the statement said.
"In addition, the settlement calls for eHarmony, Inc. to pay McKinley 5,000 dollars, and to pay the Division on Civil Rights 50,000 dollars to cover investigation-related administrative costs."
The settlement also calls for eHarmony to revise company publications to "make plain that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."
In a statement, eHarmony said it would start a new service for same-sex matching called "Compatible Partners" and stressed that it had "not been found in violation of the law."
"Even though we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business, we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the Attorney General since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable," said eHarmony legal counsel Theodore Olson.
"eHarmony looks forward to moving beyond this legal dispute, which has been a burden for the company, and continuing to advance its business model of serving individuals by helping them find successful, long-term relationships," he added.
The Pasadena, California-based eHarmony was founded in 2000 by Neil Clark Warren, a clinical psychologist with once-close ties to the Christian evangelical group Focus on the Family.
As well as the United States, eHarmony offers its services in Australia, Britain and Canada.
Its website claims that 236 eHarmony members marry every day in the United States as a result of being matched on the site using eHarmony's patented "Compatibility Matching System."