Racist Owners of Swim Club Barred "Black" and "Brown-Skinned" Visitors, ACLU of NJ Charges

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
August 22, 2002 12:00 am

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Racist Owners of Swim Club Barred "Black" and "Brown-Skinned" Visitors, ACLU of NJ Charges


NEWARK, NJ-Owners of a swim club in suburban Nutley violated state discrimination laws when they turned away "black" and "brown-skinned" customers and guests, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey charged today in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of parents and their children.

"It is sad to see that the same kind of discrimination we fought long and hard against in the 1960s is still alive today," said Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "The difference is that we now have laws in place that, in the words of the New Jersey Supreme Court, provide the tools to eradicate the cancer of discrimination."

The ACLU lawsuit charged Patrick and Ray Nardone, owners of the Le Terrace Swim Club, with violation of a state discrimination law that prohibits businesses from denying any individual the right to use their accommodations based on that person's race, color or ethnicity. Swimming pools are listed as a specific example of a "public accommodation" covered by the law.

In legal papers, the ACLU said that Patrick Nardone quizzed one member about whether any of her guests for her daughter's birthday party were "brown-skinned" or "black" and said that people of color would not be welcome at Le Terrace. The member, who is represented in today's lawsuit, was so shocked at the questions and so concerned that her guests would be mistreated that she cancelled plans for the party at the club.

Further, on a number of occasions, persons of color who were brought as guests to the club were denied the right to enter even while white guests were permitted entry, the ACLU complaint said. There is nothing in Le Terrace Swim Club's by-laws, membership agreements or rules that would apprise members or their guests of any associational interest in joining Le Terrace other than having access to the pool's facilities. It appears that Nardone and the club have been engaging in such discrimination for many years, the ACLU said.

"A business cannot shield itself from discrimination laws simply by labeling itself a 'private club,'" said Anne McHugh, lead counsel in the case. "The greatness of this country lies in its diversity and I have no doubt that a New Jersey jury will send that message to Mr. Nardone."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nutley residents Michael and Catherine Russo and 18-year-old Marci Shephard, who lives with them, Phyllis Kropp and her adopted 17-year-old daughter Nicole, and Bloomfield residents Philip and Annmarie Giordano and their 11-year-old daughter Cara Marie.

The ACLU complaint describes the ugly racism the three families encountered over the years:

  • Michael and Catherine Russo, who are white, welcomed Marci Shepard, who is African American, into their home after her father died during her senior year of high school. The Russos had grown close to Marci during the time she was a mother's helper for their four children. After joining Le Terrace in May of 2001, Mrs. Russo and her children brought Marci to the club as their guest. An employee would not let Marci in, claiming that no more guests were being permitted that day. While Russo went to discuss the matter with the owner, the employee permitted a member and that member's white guest to enter the facilities. After Russo continued to protest the treatment of Marci, Nardone ordered the family off the premises.

  • Philip and Annmarie Giordano scheduled their daughter's June 2002 birthday party at Le Terrace Swim Club, where Mrs. Giordano and her daughter were members. Patrick Nardone demanded a list of guests and asked whether the guest list included any "brown-skinned" or "black" children. When told that her child did have African-American friends who were guests, Nardone informed her that those children were not welcome at the club. He thereafter rescinded the Giordanos' membership.

  • Nicole Kropp was six years old when she and her adoptive mother Phyllis were invited to Le Terrace Swim Club by a member who had received prior approval to bring two guests. When Nicole, who is dark-skinned, arrived at the club, she and her mother were informed that no guests were allowed to enter, although it was clear that other white guests were being permitted entry. Nicole was not invited to future events at the swimming pool because people knew that she would not be permitted to enter. Nicole is now 17, and the impact of that act of discrimination remains strong.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order barring any future discrimination by the club owners and requiring them to annually inform the state civil rights office of the ethnicity of club members and guests permitted to use the facilities, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for the families.

The lawsuit is captioned Shepard, et al. v. Le Terrace Swim Club, et al. The case was filed in Superior Court in Newark, New Jersey. The attorney representing the families on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey is Anne McHugh of Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman in Princeton.

The legal complaint is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/leterrace.pdf

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