As you may already know (Google News already lists 300+ articles on it):
A state investigation found that a Montgomery County swim club racially discriminated in June when it revoked an agreement to allow a Northeast Philadelphia day camp to use its pool after 56 African American and Hispanic children made their first visit.
“The racial animus . . . and the racially coded comments” by club members at the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley were the reasons the club revoked Creative Steps Inc.’s contract, according to a 33-page report by the Human Relations Commission that was released last night by an attorney for four of the campers.
The situation elicited a national media firestorm during the summer over allegations that members of a swim club in a historically white suburb withdrew permission to allow minority children into their pool – even after a $1,950 check had been delivered to pay for the children to have weekly swimming trips.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that everything the Club said is true. There’s still a big unanswered question: once they realized they were overbooked, how did they choose which money to refund?
The most recent members? Did they do that for individual white members, too? What about predominantly white day camps?
On its face, the Storybrook Day Camp story sounds favorable to the Valley Swim Club’s position, but upon closer inspection it’s another diverse day camp whose money was refunded after they showed up. Like the “statistics” described by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the presence of another minority Day Camp which was excluded might be very damaging to the Swim Club’s defense, unless they can show similar exclusions / refunds of white camps or members.
But I think they’ve got an even bigger problem: we’re having a debate they obviously did not have when they refunded the money. The concern stated at the time was over “complexion” and “atmosphere.”
31. In 2009, the Respondent employed eight persons as life guards and seven persons as grounds crew. All of the life guards and grounds crew employees are race, Caucasian.
33. In 2009; the Respondent had a total of 155 paid memberships of whom none were African American.
34. In 2008, the Respondent had a total of 179 paid memberships of whom none were African American.
109. Approximately 30-45 minutes after their arrival, ________and ____________, Creative Steps campers, left the swimming pool and walked to the Respondent’s concession stand to get a snack.
110. As they returned to the swimming pool area, ____________ heard Michelle Flynn (race, Caucasian), a Respondent member and a teacher at Laura H.Carnell Elementary School, state the following: “What are all of these black kids doing here?” and “I am scared they might do something to my child. ”
130. Immediately after the Creative Steps campers departed, Mr. Duesler stated that Meg Wescott, a Respondent member, spoke to him on behalf of 5 or 6 women who were in favor of the ·summer day camps, including Creative Steps. Mr. Duesler also stated that Yasmin Adib, Amy Goldman, Walter Poukish, Respondent members, spoke to him in favor of Creative Steps.
131. On or about June 29, 2009 ill the early evening, Mr. Duesler received a telephone call from Mary Beth DeGeorge, a Respondent member, who indicated that she was at the pool earlier in the day. She ‘told Mr. Duesler that she felt that the Respondent was not prepared to host the camps due to the volmne of children in the shaIlowend of the swimming pool and that it was beyond the Respondent’s capacity.
132. On or about June 29, 2009 at 9:45 p.m., Ms. Flynn sent an e-mail to the Respondent members explaining that she was “‘very upset” that when she arrived at the swim club at 4:00, there was a bus emptying off a group of kids.She explained that while it is a community pool, “‘this is not the community where these kids live.” She also noted that she was especiaijy annoyed “‘because there was no notice ahead of time like there is for the swim team.”
133. Ms. Flynn also stated: “‘, .. since I personally know some of these kids because I teach at their school and I have seen first hand what at least one of these children is capable of I don’t feel comfortable with my children even going to the bathroom during this time.” She also stated: “Thank you for your time and I needed to write something because I felt I was being treated as if because the kids were African American it was an issue.. That could not be further than the truth.”
138. On or about June 29, 2009 at 11:17 p.m., Walt Slowinski, a Respondent member, sent an e-mail to the Respondent members with a subject line of “bussing.” Mr. Slowinski stated that he was a “little upset” at the news “about the bussing of kid (sic) to the pool every Monday.” He explained that “[w]hen we joined we assumed that this was a private club not a club for hire or some sort of social program.” He concluded that “[w]e like Valley and would love to stay but after hearing what transpired today I guess we will be looking for somewhere else to go next year. ”
144. Just over twelve hours after Mr. Duesler defended his decision to invite the campers in an e-mail to Mr. Slowinski, on or about June 30, 2009 at 12:40 p.m., Mr. Duesler sent an e-mail to” the members of the Responqent’s Board of Directors with a subject line of “Feedback from our Summer Camp Program” recommending the cancellation of Creative Steps.
145. Mr. Duesler explained that “[w]hat ultimately is holding sway with me is the tension that will linger throughout every hour of the club, essentially pitting member against member, as we are forced to take sides in this debate. This is no way to spend the summer for anyone, and, believe me, its all people are talking about at the club.” With that in mind, Mr. Duesler recommended to the Respoiu:lent Board of Directors the following: “we refund out Monday summer campers’ money, and inform Wednesday’s camp that things are not going to work out this summer. Our Summer Bible Camp will conclude this week.” Mr. Duesler concluded by explaining he welcomed feedback from the members of the Respondent Board of Directors but requested such feedback be quick as he needed to contact the campers to let them know.
150. On or about June 30, 2009 at 3:54 p.m., Steve Korolyk, a Respondent member, e-mailed the Respondent members with a subject line of “LET THE MEMBERS KNOW.” He stated: “I hear the Valley Swim Club is becoming a day camp pool, I see nothing posted on your website or at the board at the bottom of the fill.” He also voiced complaints regarding the Wexler Plumbing party and asked when the party would be occurring this year. He concluded by stating that it was not right not letting members know when the pool was rented out and that he might have to rethink his membership.
151. On or about June 30,2009 at 4:01 p.m.• Mr. Duesler responded to Mr. Korolyk’s e-mail stating that it was a mistake on his part not telling the club about the summer camps. He also stated: “I will also tell you that after this week, we are pulling the plug on the camps, since 1 have been receiving many emails similar to yours. ”
152. On or about June 30, 2009 in the late afternoon, Mr. Duesler called Ms. Wright and informed her that the Respondent was discontinuing its relationship with Creative Steps Summer Day Camp and that it would refund the $1,950.00 payment.
Assuming the correctness of the findings, it seems clear that “safety” had nothing to do with the decision to refund the day camp’s money. Ironically, it seems that the “atmosphere” and “complexion” remarks by Mr. Duesler that inflamed this controversy really summed up what happened: after receiving multiple complaints with implicit, but not explicit, references to the campers’ race, Mr. Duesler “pulled the plug on the camps” not necessarily out of any personal racial animus he felt against the campers, but rather to assuage the complaints of those who appeared to feel racial animus towards the campers. Ergo, the campers were rejected due to their race.
Although the PHRC findings have been described as finding, for example, “racial discrimination did play a role in the rejection of campers from a local swim club,” that’s not quite what the findings mean. Rather, as the findings conclude:
WHEREFORE, probable cause exists to credit the Complainant’s allegations that the Respondent refused and denied Complainant’s child the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges of its public accommodation and commercial property, including the use of its swimming pool, due to the child’s race, Black/African American in violation of Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. 955 …
Which is to say, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission found probable cause to believe discrimination occurred, rather than a actually finding discrimination. As described by my second post, the next step involves the Commission sitting down with the parties to encourage a settlement. If that doesn’t work, then the Commission will hold a formal hearing on the matter, after which the factual and legal findings will be made.
Interestingly, the finding awarded “actual damages, including damages caused by humiliation and embarrassment.” That doesn’t line up with the statute itself, which allows damages for “humiliation and embarrassment” only for employment and housing cases, but not for public accommodation cases. See 43 P.S. § 959(f)(1) and Mechensky v. Commonwealth, Pennsylvania Human Relations Comm’n, 134 Pa. Commw. 192, 205, 578 A.2d 589, 595–96 (1990)(describing Midland Heights Homes, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 478 Pa. 625, 387 A.2d 664 (1978), as holding “the Commission was without authority to award compensatory damages”).