The state's top civil rights official has ruled that taverns cannot offer discounts to women on "ladies nights," agreeing with a man who claimed such gender-based promotions discriminated against men.

David R. Gillespie said it was not fair for women to get into the Coastline nightclub (search) for free and receive discounted drinks while men paid a $5 cover charge and full price for drinks.

In his ruling Tuesday, J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the state Division on Civil Rights, rejected arguments by the nightclub that ladies nights were a legitimate promotion. Commercial interests do not override the "important social policy objective of eradicating discrimination (search)," he ruled.

The ruling specifically addressed the weekly ladies nights (search) at the Coastline in Cherry Hill, but it carries the force of a court decision and applies statewide. Vespa-Papaleo said state officials would write formal rules after a public hearing.

The restaurant's attorney, Colleen Ready, did not immediately return a telephone message left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Courts in other states have issued divergent opinions on such promotions.

Judges in Pennsylvania and Iowa have said similar events are illegal, but courts in Illinois and Washington state have said that ladies nights are permissible because they do not discriminate against men but rather encourage women to attend.