The legal saga between a since-shuttered suburban Philadelphia swim club and a city-based children’s day camp has seemingly come to an end, with the announcement that the U.S. Justice Department has reached a settlement agreement with the club over claims it denied admittance to the racially diverse group of students.
The Justice Department announced late last week that it has reached an agreement with the Valley Club, a former swimming facility located in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., just over the Philadelphia County line, over allegations by Northeast Philadelphia-based Creative Steps Inc. that youngsters were met with racial bias by club members on the first day students utilized the facility back in the summer of 2009.
The day camp had paid the swim club a fee in return for the campers being granted access to the swimming pool for the summer, but things turned sour after campers allegedly heard racial slurs being used in reference to the campers by other club members, according to background information on the case.
In early July 2009, the club refunded the day camp’s membership fee and prohibited the children from returning to the facility to use the swimming pool, according to the Justice Department.
In January 2010, the Justice Department filed a complaint against the club alleging violations of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin and religion in places of public accommodation.
A private lawsuit was also filed against the club by parents of the affected youngsters.
Last week’s settlement agreement also resolves those claims, according to a Justice Department news release.
In the release, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, is quoted as saying that the department will continue to “protect vigorously the rights of persons of all races to be free from discrimination in public accommodations across the country.
“No one may be denied the right to use a swimming pool because of their race or the color of their skin,” Perez said in his statement.
Valley Club filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in November 2009, and the club’s property was sold in June 2010 for $1.46 million, according to the Justice Department.
The agency said that the settlement agreement, which still has to be approved by the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, stipulates that once the administration of the estate and the bankruptcy case is closed and after paying out costs and fees, the remaining assets will be paid to Creative Steps, the more than 50 children who attend the camp and their camp counselors.
“This settlement provides significant opportunity to children who were denied an opportunity based on their skin color,” JoAnn Edwards, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said in a statement in response to news of the agreement. “Our hope is that this case serves as prevention for years to come and a reminder that discrimination is illegal, and has no place in Pennsylvania.”
The Justice Department statement says that the settlement also provides that $65,000 will be set aside from the sale of the swim club’s property for the creation of a leadership council comprised of former Valley Club members, Creative Steps counselors, campers and their families, in which they will take leadership roles in planning swimming, educational and recreational opportunities for the community.
While the Justice Department announcement doesn’t put an exact dollar figure to the settlement agreement, the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted plaintiffs’ lawyers Brian R. Mildenberg and Gabriel Levin as saying as much as $1.1 million will be shared with the various claimants.