The city attorney's office is preparing a discrimination suit against the exclusive downtown Jonathan Club, formerly an all-men's club, where women members are still denied access to a library, a bar and a grill.
"I can confirm that a lawsuit is being prepared, but I can't comment any further until the lawsuit is filed," City Atty. spokesman Mike Qualls said Wednesday.
Club secretary George Thompson said he expects the city to file suit as early as today. "They've been in touch with us, and all I can say is that they are free to do what they think is right, and we are free to react in the way we think is right," he added.
Women Voted In
The Jonathan Club was founded in 1925 and for decades only men were acceptable candidates, but in April, 1987, the club's 3,000 members voted by a 4-1 margin to allow women in.
Since then about a dozen women have joined the club, and while they no longer have to take a discreet back elevator to get to the main dining room, as was the policy for women family members and guests until recently, they are still barred from the men's library, grill and bar.
"I'm pleased to see that the city attorney is filing suit. These palaces of power need to know that it is illegal for business clubs to exclude women from (areas reserved for men only)," said Councilwomen Joy Picus, who sponsored a city ordinance outlawing sex segregation in business clubs that went into effect last June.
John R. Shiner, the club's general counsel, said he had "absolutely no idea" why the suit was being filed.
"The club has no discriminatory policies with respect to membership admissions," he said. The lawsuit, he said, "is totally without merit and a waste of the taxpayers' money.
"Any organization should be able to manage its own internal affairs without the intrusion of government or any other organization, particularly when neither club members or anybody else has complained. Ask the city if there has been any complaint; I bet there hasn't been any," he said.
Qualls would not comment on that point.
Second Use of Law
The filing of the lawsuit will mark the second time the city has used the anti-discrimination law to force male-dominated private clubs to open their facilities to women members.
Last August, the city sued the Brentwood Country Club in an effort to force it to stop barring women from its "Men's Grill" and golf course during part of the day. The city agreed to drop the suit last month after the club agreed to admit women to the restaurant at all hours and make the rules less restrictive to women golfers.
The city's anti-discrimination law prohibits large private clubs from discriminating against women, minorities, homosexuals and the disabled in their membership selection policies and facility access rules for existing members.