The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission issued a finding of probable cause Tuesday that racism was involved in the decision last June by a suburban Philadelphia swim club to revoke privileges of a largely minority day care center.
The commission ordered monetary damages for humiliation and embarrassment and a civil penalty of not more than $50,000. The decision noted that none of the club’s 155 paid members this year was African-American. Last year, according to the decision, there were “179 paid memberships, none of whom were African American.” In addition, the decision noted that in 2009, the Valley Club “made a concerted effort to expand the geographic range of its membership by engaging in a marketing campaign…. The Respondent efforts were mainly directed at areas with overwhelmingly Caucasian populations…. The Respondent made no effort to direct such marketing efforts at areas with significant African American populations….” “It’s an invitation to sit down with our staff and have the parties settle their differences,” said Stephen Glassman, chairman of the commission, of the 33-page decision. “If they don’t, it will go on to a public hearing, a trial.” He said the Valley Swim Club has 30 days to appeal. Joe Tucker, a lawyer for the swim club, said his client will do just that. “We believe this is wrong,” he told CNN in a telephone interview. “I believe the people at the PHRC are very good people, but they were put in a tough position … If the PHRC would have decided against the children or in favor of the club, they would have been painted with the same unfair and untrue racist brush that the Valley Swim Club was painted with.” The controversy started after the Valley Swim Club revoked swimming privileges for the approximately 65 children — most of them minorities — from the Creative Steps day care center after a visit June 29. Some black and Hispanic children said white club members made racist comments to them during that visit, asking why “black children were there” and raising concerns that “they might steal from us.” The day care center had originally contracted to use the pool during the summer, but the club canceled the agreement and returned the day-care center’s $1,950 check without explanation. The club canceled contracts with two other day care centers because of safety and crowding, swim club director John Duesler said. Those facilities have not protested the club’s actions. The issue was exacerbated when Duesler told two Philadelphia television stations the children had changed “the complexion” and “atmosphere” of the club. The comment brought protesters outside the facility. Duesler later said that safety and crowding — not racism — prompted the cancellation. As the controversy gained national attention, the swim club asked the day care center to return. Center officials refused and said they would pursue a lawsuit.