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Pine Valley Golf Club charged civil rights complaint

Pine Valley Golf Club has been in a charged civil rights complaint with a pattern of gender-based discrimination by the historically male-dominated course, located in Camden County.

Among other allegations, the complaint claims that the Club violated the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by banning women from becoming members and by otherwise restricting their ability to golf and access club facilities – policies that the club relaxed only when faced with DCR’s investigation.

The golf course is open exclusively to male members. Women can only play there on Sunday afternoons.

Residing in the town is severely restricted, too. Only golf course members can own homes, and only men can be members. And, the homes are owned, but the land is leased from the club.

The Camden County town 20 miles south of Philadelphia has one public road, 23 houses without street addresses, and no mailboxes. Mail is distributed, you guessed it, by the golf club.

The administrative complaint further alleges that the club has used discriminatory restrictive covenants to prevent women from owning houses on the club’s land unless they co-own a house with a man, and has adopted employment policies that discriminated on the basis of sex and gender.

“Gender-based discrimination has no place in New Jersey, period,” said Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “Our Division on Civil Rights is committed to rooting out unlawful discrimination and holding accountable those who violate our laws.”

“New Jersey will not tolerate policies or practices that discriminate on the basis of gender, including those that perpetuate the effects of past discrimination,” said DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino. “The LAD prohibits policies and practices that are intended to, or have the effect of excluding people who identify as women.  Failure to provide equal access to persons of all genders in housing, employment and places of public accommodation has consequences.”

The LAD prohibits discrimination and bias-based harassment based on protected characteristics in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The administrative complaint against Pine Valley Golf Club includes allegations of gender or sex discrimination in each of these protected areas.

Clubs that in their nature are distinctly private are exempt from the LAD’s protections from discrimination in places of public accommodation, but the complaint alleges that this exception cannot be invoked by the Pine Valley Gulf Club to justify its historic treatment of women because the club was so deeply intertwined with the former Borough of Pine Valley.

The Borough of Pine Valley merged into the neighboring Borough of Pine Hill around the beginning of 2022. Previously, however, the club owned all land in the Borough of Pine Valley; effectively controlled its operations; and was the primary recipient of services and benefits provided by its government.

The Pine Valley Golf Club asserts that it lifted all restrictions on membership and use of its facilities based on sex or gender by the spring of 2021, after DCR commenced its investigation.

Today’s administrative complaint, however, alleges an extensive history of past LAD violations at the 108-year-old club, resulting in a legacy of inequality that lingers today.

Among other things, the complaint points to a continued dearth of women members at the club. As of July 2021, only three women were members of the 700-member club – less than 0.5 percent of its overall membership.

In addition, the complaint alleges, the club has unlawfully discriminated against women by tying Club membership to the ability to own or lease property in the Borough of Pine Valley.

Specifically, the club’s long-standing men-only membership policy, coupled with its use of restrictive “members only” deed covenants, disqualified women from being eligible to own or lease any of the 19 private dwellings that sit on club-owned land.

And while the club purportedly did away with its restrictive covenants on property leases during DCR’s investigation, the club also has said it no longer plans to enter into any new leases of club land, effectively preventing women from purchasing any of the homes in the future.

The complaint announced today also alleges that the club has violated the LAD’s protections from discrimination in employment. These allegations include:

The complaint cites a continuing lack of women employees at the club, noting that women make up fewer than 4 percent of the club’s employees, and that most work in such positions as dishwasher, luncheonette staffer and laundry worker.

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