March 31, 2006 — -- A California attorney is suing online dating giant eHarmony for refusing to find him a date.

John Claassen, 36, from Emeryville, Calif., filed a civil rights suit last week in Alameda County Superior Court claiming eHarmony is discriminating against him because of his marital status. The still-wed Claassen seeks $12,000 in civil penalties from the Web site.

"Most people don't file a suit to get a date," Claassen told a reporter for the Contra Costa Times. "If I had my druthers, I'd be divorced by now. I'm emotionally in a different state than I am legally."

Legally, Claassen and his wife of eight years have been separated since last May. But that's not enough for the Internet's fastest-growing relationship service. Unlike other photo personal sites, eHarmony offers its services to singles looking for more than just a casual encounter. They target singles who are ready to settle down and look for their soul mate.

"A lot of other Web sites make no attempt to make connections with people," said an eHarmony spokesman who asked that his name be withheld. "It's just like being in a big singles bar. We target singles looking for serious relationships, not just a quick date."

EHarmony would not comment on pending litigation.

That holistic approach to relationships could be why the Pasadena company has been so successful. In the last three years, its registered membership has nearly quadrupled, to a whopping 11 million members. EHarmony was founded by Neil Clark Warren, an author of several books on dating, love and marriage.

"Neil spent 35 years as a marriage counselor," said an eHarmony spokesman, "He's all about improving relationships and lowering divorce rates."

Not for 'Chicken on the Side'

Perhaps it's that commitment and the assurance of getting matched up with someone who is not just in it for the hookup that is so appealing. The cyber matchmaker boasts more marriages per match than any other online dating service. A 2005 Harris survey reported that the Web site's pairings resulted in 33,000 wedded unions that year.

Claassen is still technically married, although he expects his divorce to become final within two months. But the attorney can't wait to look for a love connection.

"I just think I've got the right as an individual trying to recover from something that wasn't the high point in my life," he told The Associated Press. "If that includes dating now, why can't I?"

"It just seems like he's being litigious," said writer Amy Tenowich, a 34-year-old freelance journalist for the L.A. Daily News who has used the popular online dating service during the past two years.

"The whole point of eHarmony is to find the love of your life, to find the one," she said. "Is he really trying to find the one?"

Tenowich suggested a host of other sites with more liberal membership policies, including match.com, americansingles.com and lavalife.com.

"There are plenty of other Web sites for him to find a little piece of chicken on the side," she said.

EHarmony spells out its policy online: Most clients want to know that their potential suitors are "free of relationship commitments."

"We understand that no broad general policy can cover every conceivable situation," the Web site states. "But we still have to create rules based on what's best for most of the people most of the time."

The cyber matchmaker has barred the attorney from becoming a member, but welcomes him back once his divorce is final.

Writer Tenowich offers a bit of solace to Claassen from her own misadventures in dating. She claims he's not missing out by being banned from eHarmony.

"My experience with normal versus cyberspace dating has pretty much been the same," she said."It's equally horrifying."