Boys Clubs Must Admit Girls, State Supreme Court Rules

Times Staff Writer

In its second major sex discrimination decision in a week, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that Boys Clubs must admit girls and said a policy of flatly excluding girls violates state civil rights law.

The majority in the 5-2 ruling contended that the decision is limited, but that view was contradicted by a dissenting justice and a deputy state attorney general who predicted that the ruling could extend to such organizations as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as to college fraternities and sororities and possibly to such businessmen’s clubs as Rotary.

Acting in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and supported by the attorney general, Justice Joseph Grodin wrote for the majority that the policy of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Boys Club to exclude girls violated the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

“The effect of this policy in Santa Cruz is to deny the excluded group and that group alone access to recreational opportunities available nowhere else in the vicinity,” Grodin wrote.


The issue before the court was whether the Boys Club, a nonprofit organization, could be deemed a “business.” Under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a business cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, race or religion. The act seeks to regulate “all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”

“The Legislature intended that the phrase business establishments be interpreted in the broadest sense reasonably possible,” Grodin wrote.

The majority argued that the ruling is limited, saying: “Nothing we say necessarily requires a similar result in the case of other single-sex youth organizations.

“Nor may we foreclose the Legislature from a more precise formulation of the situations in which private discrimination is forbidden.”


Justice Stanley Mosk predicted in dissent, however, that the ruling “will strain our social fabric and send shock waves throughout the realm of children’s organizations.”

“Growing up into a world of sex equality is inevitable for all children, but the court-ordered elimination of traditional childhood activity is an exorbitant price to pay for accelerating the process,” Mosk wrote. He pointed out that several Boy Scout and Girl Scout chapters, national organizations of the Scouts and chapters of Boys Clubs throughout the state joined in the case.

“Boys could rely on this case to insist on their right to join girls clubs, the Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, Young Women’s Christian Assn. and like groups. There is no rational way to distinguish those situations,” Mosk wrote.

“In addition, the majority strike a death knell for fraternities and sororities as they exist on every college campus in California. . . . Similar considerations will probably also affect separate college dormitories.”


The ruling follows the decision last Thursday that gender-based promotions, such as so-called ladies nights at bars where women get discounts, amount to sex discrimination in violation of the civil rights act.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Marion Johnson, who argued both cases before the high court, said that as a result of Monday’s ruling, many other organizations “can no longer exclude entire groups of people for no good reason.”

In both cases, the state attorney general’s office argued against gender-based distinctions.

“When you read them together, you’ve got a very strong civil rights act in California. A large number of businesses are covered,” Johnson said.


In addition to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, such business groups as Rotary Clubs may also have to begin accepting women, said Johnson.

“If a club is open to all businessmen in the city,” Johnson said, “then it would have to be open to all business people. They could not simply say, ‘We are only going to take the men and not the women.’ ”

The case began in 1977, when two girls tried to join the Santa Cruz Boys Club but were refused and filed the suit. A Superior Court judge invalidated the club’s policy. That ruling was overturned by the state Court of Appeal, which held the policy of excluding girls to be legal.

As is the situation at other chapters of the Boys Club of America, the Santa Cruz chapter has an open admission policy, so long as the prospective member is a boy between ages 8 and 18 and can pay the nominal membership fee of $3.25 a year.


The club has a gymnasium, pool, snack bar and game room. In northern Santa Cruz County, the court said, there is no similar club for girls.

The Boys Club nationally has no set policy regarding admission of girls; of the 99 such clubs in California, 19 admit girls, a brief filed in the case said.

The clubs contended that their intent is to combat delinquency. Because more boys than girls get into trouble with the law, the clubs argued, the organization’s beneficial effect would be diluted by admitting girls.

Grodin countered:


“There was no evidence that boys need the recreation offered by the club more than girls, that a sex-segregated drop in recreational facility is more effective in combating juvenile delinquency than one open to both sexes or that extension of membership to girls would cause an impractical net increase or decrease in membership.”

Grodin was joined in the opinion by Justices Allen Broussard and Cruz Reynoso and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Maxine M. Chesney, who was appointed by Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird to help decide the case. The case was argued almost two years ago, before Justice Malcolm M. Lucas joined the court.

In a concurring opinion, Bird said that if Boys Clubs were allowed to exclude girls, the Salvation Army or a legal aid group might be able to refuse help to people because of their race, religion or sex.

Justice Otto Kaus dissented, saying the majority’s mistake was that it “views the club’s policies as being pointed toward the exclusion of girls.”


“With that chip on the majority’s shoulder, pejoratives come easily. If the court looked at the club’s activities more benignly as providing services for boys--a service tailored to their needs--it would not find it necessary to reach such a wondrous result,” Kaus wrote.

The ruling follows one issued earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court that a Minnesota statute requiring the Jaycees to admit women did not violate the U.S. Constitution. The California court’s ruling differs because it interprets a California statute, the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (Victoria Isbister et al. vs. Boys Club of Santa Cruz. S.F. 24623.)