Since July, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has been investigating whether a private suburban Philadelphia swim club disinvited 56 minority kids from using its pool after some members of the all-white club complained.
This week, the commission released a report that won't be celebrated at the Valley Club in Montgomery County. The 33-page report identifies "racial animus" and "racially coded comments" by some members as probable cause for why the club revoked a contract with the Creative Steps Inc. day camp and returned its $1,950 payment after one visit.
The investigators recommended that the club pay a $50,000 civil penalty for discrimination, reimburse the family of the child whose parents filed the complaint for expenses and legal fees incurred and provide racial sensitivity training for the club's board members.
It's frustrating to realize how avoidable all of this was. The commission found evidence that the Valley Club had hosted groups as big as Creative Steps in the past without incident, so the excuse that it wasn't equipped as an institution to handle that many kids didn't hold up.
The commission also obtained copies of e-mail by members in which the race of the children was mentioned prominently in one way or another. The report also cited the Valley Club's poor-to-nonexistent outreach to minorities in neighboring communities. It has no black or Hispanic members.
This, along with the statements of those children who overheard unkind comments about their presence at the pool on June 29, created a devastating chain of evidence against the Valley Club. It didn't help that the director of the club initially said there was some fear that the children would change the "complexion" of the club. He later apologized for his word choice, but it was too late. The impression that the all-white swim club had discriminated against inner-city kids had taken root.
The Valley Club said it would appeal, but it shouldn't hold its breath expecting a different outcome. Because of either incompetence or very real bias, it has found itself in one of the most unfortunate situations possible. This country has an unfortunate history of bias at public and private pools.
If the Valley Club is truly a victim of circumstances as it claims, it would be too bad. But from this end of the pool, it looks like just another institution that got caught treading the stagnant waters of the past and getting in over its head.