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The Right to Swim in a Private Club?

July 10, 2009

Like many others, I like going to golf and swim clubs in the summer time.  Many of my lawyer friends do belong to private golf clubs, and some others belong to swim clubs.  I’m even looking to possibly join a swim club. 

So, I’ve been paying particular attention to the “Whitewater Scandal” – the decision of The Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley to rescind the contract for Creative Steps day campers to use the pool on Monday afternoons during the summer.  The conflict set up is relatively juicy: a predominantly white and older membership of a private swim club in the suburbs on one side and 65 black and Hispanic children day campers from the city on the other side. 

Obviously, you have to feel for the children.  Given the city budget cuts, they are looking for a place to swim in a nice outdoor pool setting.  The President of The Valley Club was sympathetic to their plight and agreed to the contract for the pool’s use on Monday afternoons from 3:30-5:00 for a few weeks in the summer.  It was on the first of these afternoons that the trouble arose, with allegations that the members pulled their (presumably non-minority) children out of the water and complained out loud about why there were black children in the pool.  Supposedly, The Valley Club’s President was overruled by the membership and had to rescind the contract and refund the money.

On the other hand, however, it’s not a simple clear cut case of definitive discrimination based on race.  Another day camp of 25 children had an arrangement with The Valley Club, and its director noted that on its first visit, the noise level was louder than expected.  On its website, The Valley Club posted a message explaining its actions.  It states that the club originally agreed to invite the camps to use the facility with full knowledge of the multi-ethnic backgrounds of the campers.  The decision, the website explains, to refund the membership funds was based upon the realization that the facilities could not accommodate the number of children from these camps.  The Valley Club does have minority members (although its claim that it has a multi-ethnic and diverse membership may go a bit overboard).  

Should the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission really examine whether the club violated laws in their actions?  I think it’s worth looking into so long as there’s no inclination to presuppose that the club did so.  Should Senator Arlen Specter really be sending a letter to the club to suggest that it let the campers back in?  That’s a different story.  When it all boils down to it, isn’t The Valley Club still a private swim club? It can allow certain people to become members, but it does not have to allow everyone to become members.  Those members who do not like the club’s membership makeup can certainly either go through the process to change them or leave the membership.  For instance, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor left her membership in a private women’s club to distance herself from an organization that supposedly was discriminatory in its membership makeup.  Also, why would the campers really want to be around at least some folks who are not tolerant of the “complexion” (as the word that was unfortunately used by the club president) they would bring? 

Still, it’s a fascinating issue, and it remains to be seen what the end result will be.  At least the children did find alternate accommodations for their swimming, so all is mostly well.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Press permalink
    July 10, 2009 11:31 pm

    Nice analysis the legalilties. However, the documented treatment of the children by members prior to revoking the children’s membership leaves much to be considered. In this circumstance, I think explaining the legalities of private clubs rather than exploring how this was done and what was the react raises the question, “Is fact being the enemy of truth?”. If facts are more your interest, please remember that whatever line “the Valley Club” takes now, the children, parents and administrators of Creative Steps have all gleaned racism from the club’s actions.

  2. Michael Press permalink
    July 10, 2009 11:32 pm

    do excuse my typos

  3. July 12, 2009 9:00 pm

    That location was chosen because the location where the kids used to swim closed due to lack of money.

    Its unclear whether the Human Relations Commission will take any action since there is a question of whether they have jurisdiction to enforce any action. The place is a private club but is reportedly a private nonprofit organization chartered in 1954.

    If the kids were turned away because the facility could not accomodate that many kids at one time, perhaps the club could have suggested breaking up the campers into two different sessions. Because they made no effort for compromise, we can only conclude their true reasons for kicking out these kids.

  4. clivetheclubguy permalink
    July 31, 2009 9:43 pm

    Reading the new book “Private Clubs in American and around the World” will give all those interested and/or directly involved a better sense of the unique and fascinating world of private clubs.

  5. October 1, 2009 10:35 pm

    Hello there SKipper hows hanging today

  6. March 8, 2010 11:10 am

    Which golf clubs will be the best for beginner ?

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