Court Move May Topple Rotary's Men-Only Rule

From a Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously let stand a broad appellate court ruling that could require all Rotary clubs in California to admit women.

A lawyer for the Illinois-based Rotary International said he was surprised that none of the justices voted to review the state Court of Appeal opinion issued last March.

"It is our intention to go to the U.S. Supreme Court on it," William John Kennedy said.

The case began when the Duarte chapter of the Rotary Club admitted three women in 1977, despite the parent organization's policy against admitting women as members. Rotary International revoked the Duarte club's charter, prompting the 20-member chapter to sue. A Superior Court judge ruled against the Duarte club's right to admit women, but the appellate court reversed the ruling.

The Court of Appeal opinion was part of a trend in state law toward opening previously all-male clubs to women, especially if the clubs are used in any way to conduct business or are meeting places for professionals.

The court said that although Rotary clubs are nonprofit associations, they are businesses under state law, in part because professional contacts are made there. And since the state Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex, race or religion by a business, the organization cannot bar women from joining, the court said.

The appellate court expanded on two state Supreme Court rulings issued last year that banned discounts for women at car washes and bars as discriminatory and directed a Boys Club in Santa Cruz to admit girls.

Kennedy argued that unless the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the case, the state appellate court ruling could easily be expanded into challenges against the membership requirements of any private, non-religious club in California.

"Today it is Rotary. What is it going to be tomorrow? I think it is shocking that courts would inject this kind of sweeping control over private membership clubs," Kennedy said.

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