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Admission to an association is a matter entirely within the discretion of the association.  An association has the power to enact rules  governing the admission of members and to prescribe the necessary qualification for membership.[i] However, discrimination is prohibited.

Courts are of the view that it is unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, or manager of any place of public accommodation to refuse, withhold from, or deny any person, directly or indirectly the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof because of his/her gender.[ii]

In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (U.S. 1984), the court held that application of a state Human Rights Act (prohibiting gender discrimination in places of public accommodation) to compel an organization to accept women as regular members does not infringe on the group members’ freedom of intimate association or their freedom of expressive association guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Similarly, in Board of Dirs. of Rotary Int’l v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537 (U.S. 1987), the court held that a state statute which entitles all persons, regardless of their sex the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments does not violate the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution when it is applied to nonprofit clubs whose membership is limited to men by requiring them to admit women to membership.  The court observed that the statute to the clubs, however:

  • should not interfere unduly with the club members’ freedom of private association, where the relationship among the members is not the kind of intimate private relation that warrants constitutional protection,; and
  • should not violate the right of expressive association afforded by the First Amendment.

In Cross v. Midtown Club, Inc., 33 Conn. Supp. 150 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1976), the court held that the actions and policies of an association in excluding women as members and guests solely on the basis of sex is ultra vires and beyond the power of the corporation and its management.

[i] Greenwood v. Building Trades Council, 71 Cal. App. 159 (Cal. App. 1925)

[ii] Gifford v. Guilderland Lodge, 178 Misc. 2d 707 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1998)

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