Montgomery County Council members William Hanna and Neil Potter say the county has been on a gender bender and they are proposing to salvage the county's reputation.

Pointing a finger at some of the more publicized sex discrimination cases that the county Human Relations Commission has faced recently -- particularly a complaint against the weekly Ladies Night at a Silver Spring delicatessen -- Hanna and Potter have proposed an amendment designed to eliminate what they call "trivial suits."

The amendment by Hanna and Potter would give the director of the Human Rights Commission the discretion to dismiss cases, subject to appeal to the entire panel.

"Everyone on this council supports the basic civil rights" provisions, Hanna said yesterday, "but Montgomery County has been made a laughingstock by taking on these cases."

The two-year battle over a promotion allowing cut-rate dinners to women at the Woodside Deli on Georgia Avenue garnered Silver Spring its broadest national publicity ever.

After deli owner Gus Haris replaced the prohibited Ladies' Night with what he described as a pan-sexist "Skirt and Gown Night," a question asked on the "Hollywood Squares" game show was, "Where in the nation would wearing a dress earn a man a half-price dinner?"

According to Hanna, reasonableness, like obscenity, is something you know when you see.

"Lawyers have made fortunes arguing the word 'reasonable,' " Hanna conceded, "but I don't think there's a man on the street who doesn't think this sort of case is ridiculous."

Another case that Hanna described as "nonsense" involved a complaint by three men that the spa had barred them from all-women's aerobics classes, despite promises by sales representatives that the classes were open.

"I think there are times when both sexes have a right to privacy," he said. "If I were in a all-male aerobics class, I know I wouldn't want any woman of any age to see what a dilapidated condition I'm in."

Council member David Scull, who has asked to submit his own version of the bill, would prefer to create a legal standard for such complaints, defining what Scull calls "socially acceptable" gender discrimination.

But Sarah Burns, assistant director of the Georgetown Law Center's Sex Discrimination Clinic, said that "socially acceptable sex discrimination" is an oxymoron.

"The law [now] is perfectly clear -- there can be no exceptions based on gender," said Burns, who represented Richard Peppin against the Woodside Deli. "What happens when you starting drawing those fine lines is that the law becomes absolutely unenforceable."