Court Rules Connecticut Social Club Can’t Ban Women

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
February 27, 2008 12:00 am

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Ruling Comes After ACLU Lawsuit

MYSTIC, CT – In a victory for gender equality, a Connecticut Superior Court ruled that a local social club can no longer ban women from membership. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Connecticut on behalf of Sam Corcoran, who was denied membership in the German Social Society Frohsinn, Inc. because she is a woman. The court upheld an appellate court’s ruling that the social club was a public accommodation – not a private club – and subject to Connecticut’s civil rights laws banning discrimination.

“This case was about nothing less than the equal opportunity guaranteed by law – providing the social environment in which people are not excluded from the activities of society.” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut, “Clubs like these provide vital networking opportunities for small business owners like Sam Corcoran. It was unfair that she be denied these opportunities simply because she is a woman.”

The German Society, located in Mystic, Connecticut, has a licensed bar on the lower level and a hall on the upper level. Women had long been allowed inside the club as long as they were escorted by a man, yet they were barred from becoming members themselves. Corcoran, a small business owner in Mystic and a regular visitor to the club, was eager to explore the networking possibilities available through membership in the 200-member club and attempted to gain admission, but the club refused to give her an application because she is a woman.

However, the organization has only ever rejected one adult male applicant in memory and had long ago abandoned any requirement of German heritage. When the case went to trial in 2005, the lower court erroneously ruled that the club was exempt from the state’s public accommodation laws, which forbid public clubs from discriminating against applicants on the basis of sex, race and other criteria. The ACLU appealed the decision, and the appellate court sent the case back to the Superior Court which found that because the single criteria for membership to the club was being male, it qualified as a public club.

“If a club accepts everyone who applies for membership except women then it can’t pretend to be a private club,” said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Being a woman cannot be the only attribute that bars someone from being a member of a club.”

Attorneys on the case include Sarah Poston and Jon Orleans, cooperating attorneys for the ACLU of Connecticut, and Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

The Superior Court decision can be found online at:

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