By Aaron Blevins, 8/30/2012
Gloria Allred paved the rocky road for women’s acceptance to private clubs
Officials from the Augusta National Golf Club admitted women for the first time in the private club’s 80-year history last week, and the announcement was celebrated locally by those who fought to make Los Angeles’ private clubs more inclusive in the 1980s.
Representatives of Augusta National, where the Masters Tournament is held annually, on Aug. 20 admitted former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore.
“The admission of women to Augusta National is long overdue,” attorney Gloria Allred said. “The women who have been admitted owe a debt to those who have fought against the club’s discriminatory policy of excluding women.”
Allred, who is a partner at Allred, Maroko & Goldberg on Wilshire Boulevard, fought to end the discrimination of women at private clubs in Southern California and New York in the 1980s.
While some of those battles involved private golf clubs, she also took issue with the discriminatory practices of the Friars Club, especially its New York chapter. After becoming the first dues-paying woman admitted into the Friars Club through its Beverly Hills chapter, she was prohibited from dining at the New York chapter, despite a reciprocity agreement.
In her book, “Fight Back and Win”, Allred wrote that, after several attempts to eat lunch at the New York club, she used a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a New York City ordinance that prohibited discrimination against women at clubs with more than 400 members to gain access. Comedian Henny Youngman physically tried to prevent her from entering, she wrote.
“None of this has come without a battle,” Allred said.
Once inside these once-all-male clubs, she had to fight for equal treatment. In Beverly Hills, the Friars disallowed her from using the steam room, showers and exercise facilities, as some members liked to use the steam room in the nude. Allred filed a complaint with the California State Board of Equalization, and gained access. Once inside, with some male members openly in the nude, she said she pulled out a tape measure and started singing Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”
In 1988, Allred represented a golfer, Jan Bradshaw, who had purchased a membership at the Yorba Linda Country Club. Bradshaw, a single woman, was only allowed to use the golf course in the early afternoon on most days. Allred filed suit against the American Golf Corp., which owned the club, and eventually settled, with the club agreeing to change its policies.
She said access to private clubs is extremely important. Such clubs give members an opportunity to network, create friendships and enhance relationships that could help them professionally, Allred said, adding that women have a right to partake.
“It’s an important economic opportunity from which they’ve been excluded,” she said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, was on the Los Angeles City Council when it passed an ordinance banning discrimination at most of the city’s private clubs. The ordinance was similar to the one passed by the city of New York and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We raised the political temperature and jarred the conscience of the city,” Yaroslavsky said, adding that the council was not responsible for ending discrimination at private clubs, but contributed to the issue’s political discourse. “It’s a totally different landscape today than it was twenty-five or thirty years ago. You still have to be wealthy. …Private clubs have moved into the twenty-first century.”
He also praised officials at Augusta National.
“They have a long way to go, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Yaroslavsky said.
He said he has not heard of anybody being discriminated against at private clubs in recent years, including members of the LGBT community. Allred said that, to her knowledge, her law firm has not represented anybody in a club discrimination case in quite some time. However, that’s not exactly telling, she said.
“Just because we haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Allred said.
She said laws are still inadequate in keeping discrimination out of private clubs. Allred said some states have not enacted laws that prevent discrimination by those organizations, and this handicaps attorneys.
“Often, it takes grassroots activists and civil pioneers to do this,” she added.
Representatives of the Wilshire Country Club declined to comment for this story, as did representatives of the Hillcrest Country Club, which was reportedly founded in response to Jews being excluded from other Los Angeles country clubs.