Breaking into the boys club

A state Superior Court rules that a German-themed social club can no longer ban female members.

Published February 28, 2008 8:40PM (EST)

Two steps forward then dance around the legal maypole. This just in from the ACLU press desk.

Another boys club bit the dust when the Connecticut Superior Court ruled that German Social Society Frohsinn Inc. could no longer bar women from membership. Arguing on behalf of Sam Corcoran, a businesswoman who wanted to join the club to network with other business people, the ACLU argued successfully that the organization was not a private club but a public accommodation and therefore subject to the state's antidiscrimination bans.

Located in Mystic, Calif., the club has rejected only one application from a man in its history and no longer requires German ancestry as a prerequisite for entry. But when Corcoran asked for an application, she was denied one solely on the basis of her gender. The clubhouse includes a bar and reception hall to accommodate its 200 male members; women are allowed inside the clubhouse only if escorted by one of these guys.

So, yay! Crack open the champagne and rip down another no-girls-allowed sign! But this doesn't mean Sam Corcoran will necessarily be enjoying the flush of new fellowship. A spokesperson for the club told Fox that Corcoran wasn't guaranteed membership in the club -- na na, nanana -- but the club would review her application "under the same criteria they treat men." And on a national level, don't expect this case to have men's clubs changing their policies overnight. The subtle distinction between a private club (protected by the right to free association) and a public accommodation (subject to civil right laws that prohibit discrimination) still allows for rampant sex discrimination in clubs whose primary identity is to create networking opportunities for men. As it stands, state laws vary widely regarding sex discrimination in private clubs, so clubs change one at a time, usually only after they have been sued and lost.

According to a 1992 article on a successful sex discrimination case against the Jaycees, a national club for young men, "private clubs may pursue sex-discriminatory admission policies unless states or localities intervene." And in cases like the Bohemian Grove, which boasts some 4,000 male members of the elite, who cavort and booze it up in a redwoods encampment, the clubs' very selectivity protects against a suit. Ironically, this means that the most significant instances of sex discrimination in private clubs are perfectly legal.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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