The Pine Valley Golf Club, a prestigious, 700-member golf club in Camden County that was founded more than a century ago but only began admitting women members last spring, faces a civil rights complaint alleging a long history of gender-based discrimination in hiring and other practices, as well as its handling of memberships.
New Jersey acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin filed a complaint Wednesday against the club, outlining a history of the “world famous” club allegedly violating the state’s antidiscrimination law.
The law prohibits discrimination in “housing, employment, and places of public accommodation on the basis of gender, which includes sex, gender identity, and gender expression, among other protected characteristics.”
“New Jersey will not tolerate policies or practices that discriminate on the basis of gender, including those that perpetuate the effects of past discrimination,” said Rosemary DiSavino, deputy director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, who filed the complaint alongside Platkin.
The complaint contends the club was a place of public accommodation due to a setup where the club owned all the land in the Borough of Pine Valley — which became a part of the Borough of Pine Hill in a January consolidation.
All Pine Valley residents and borough commissioners, said the complaint, lived on club property and had some connection to the club either through direct membership, relatives who were members, or work. Without the club, the borough “would have had virtually no revenue and would have had no residents.”
“Consequently, the Club effectively controlled the Borough, and the Club was the primary recipient of services and benefits provided by the Borough,” reads the complaint.
The complaint alleges that because the club was so intertwined with the borough, setting tax rates and more, the club was not “distinctly private.”
A club representative was not immediately available for comment.
A renowned club, an exclusionary past
Named a top golf course by Golf Digest and others, the club has always been selective, with members including former presidents and celebrities and little information on how to join. Potential members require a recommendation from an existing member and an entrance fee on top of dues. Even so, prospective members wait years to be allowed in.
» READ MORE: A peek inside Pine Valley
Women were not only barred from membership until 2021, the complaint alleges, but they could also only access the club as guests during certain hours on Sundays and on rare occasions. The only reason changes were made to membership, said the suit, is because the state’s Division of Civil Rights began to investigate.
In addition to membership restrictions, the complaint says the club was able to bar women from homeownership in the borough through “discriminatory restrictive covenants” that required a member of the club — who could only be a man — to be a co-owner. The club removed these land provisions but is not entering new leases, which the complaint alleges keeps the impact of the discriminatory practice in place.
Other modifications the club has made, including allowing women members since last spring, have yielded few changes, according to the complaint. By July 2021, there were only three women members.
Women made up less than 4% of the club’s staff, or a total of six women, in July 2020. These women, according to the complaint, have been largely relegated to work — laundry, dishwashing, or bookkeeping — that limits their encounters with members. Employees could not discuss their pay, which the Attorney General’s Office said was a violation of the state’s equal pay act.
Platkin and DiSavino are seeking injunctive relief, compensatory damages for victims of the alleged discrimination, and litigation costs. The club will have 20 days to respond to allegations made and provide the Division of Civil Rights with evidence. An investigation will follow.