South Jersey Golf Club Banned Women from Joining, Faces Discrimination Lawsuit
The state of New Jersey filed a civil rights complaint against Pine Valley Golf Club, located in Camden County, alleging “a pattern of gender-based discrimination by the historically male-dominated club.”
According to the eight-page complaint, the Pine Valley Golf Club violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by banning women from becoming members and restricting their ability to golf and access Club facilities.
The complaint further alleges that the Club “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.”
The state alleges that these restrictions were only relaxed once the state began its investigation into Pine Valley’s gender-based discrimination.
As of last summer, only three of the club’s 700 members are women.
Golf Digest has ranked Pine Valley the best golf course in the country for the last five years in a row.
“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 Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits discrimination and biased-based harassment based on protected characteristics in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation.
In the civil complaint, the state acknowledges that private clubs are exempt from Laws Against Discrimination protections. However, the state argues this exception “cannot be invoked by the Pine Valley Golf 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, 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 claims that it lifted all restrictions on membership and use of its facilities based on sex and gender by the spring of 2021 after the Division of Civil Rights (DCR) began its investigation.
The complaint, filed April 27, claims that “an extensive history of past LAD violations at the 108-year-old Club [resulted] in a legacy of inequality that lingers today.”
Women account for less than 0.5% of the Club's membership - the previously mentioned 3 female members of a total of 700.
In addition, the complaint alleges the Club 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, disqualifies women from being eligible to own or lease any of the 19 private homes that sit on Club-owned land.
While the Club purportedly did away with its restrictive covenants on property leases during the DCRs 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 yesterday alleges the Club violated the LAD protections from discrimination in employment. These allegations include:
- Employment recruiting primarily based on word-of-mouth referrals from the Club’s workforce of mostly men, which “deprived people who do not identify as men of the opportunity to learn of employment opportunities” and resulted in the Club being staffed almost exclusively by men.
- Inclusion of an unlawful policy in the Club’s employee handbook that prohibited men – but not women – from wearing earrings.
- Inclusion of a policy that forbade employees from discussing their pay in violation of the LAD, as amended by the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act.
The complaint cites a continuing lack of female employees at the club, noting that women make up fewer than 4% of the club’s employees and that most work in positions such as dishwasher, luncheonette staffer, and laundry worker.
Pine Valley declined to comment further citing the private nature of the club.