Court Rules in Favor of Woman Who Was Denied Membership in All Male Club

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
February 28, 2007 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Connecticut
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HARTFORD, CT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut today hailed an important victory in a lawsuit brought by a woman who was denied membership in the German Social Society because of her gender. The Connecticut Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court committed a legal error when it incorrectly applied a narrow federal standard to the club’s requirement to be open to the public rather than the broader state standard.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision and will continue to advocate for Sam Corcoran’s right to be a member of the German Social Society,” said Renee Redman, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. “It is sobering that we are still fighting for equality between women and men in Connecticut.”

Sam Corcoran is a small business owner who attempted to gain admission to the German Social Society in Mystic, Connecticut. Corcoran, a regular visitor to the establishment was eager to explore the networking possibilities available through membership in the 200-member club. The club refused to give her an application because she is a woman. According to the ACLU, the organization had not rejected a male applicant in memory, and had long ago abandoned any requirement of German heritage.

When the case went to trial in 2005, the district court ruled that the club was exempt from the state’s public accommodation laws. The court primarily relied on the formal application procedures the club required for membership to conclude that the club was not open to the public, even though the application procedures were not always adhered to and did not actually act to screen out any applicants. The ACLU appealed the decision, and today the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals held that under Connecticut law, “once a [private] organization has determined to eschew selectivity, . . . it may not discriminate among the general public.” It noted that that “unlike the federal statute,” Connecticut’s public accommodation statute does “not expressly exclude private clubs or organizations.” Thus, the Court ruled that federal and statute tests are not identical and the trial court committed a legal error when it applied the wrong test .

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