Federal authorities have opened a civil-rights investigation into the Valley Club's alleged discrimination against swimmers from a northeast Philadelphia day camp last summer.
In a letter made public today, U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King wrote that the Department of Justice was looking into whether the private club's treatment of black and Hispanic children from the Creative Steps Summer Day Camp amounted to prohibited discrimination.
U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), who wrote to the Department of Justice in July seeking an investigation, said today the federal involvement would "give the public greater assurance" about the handling of the high publicity matter.
For the Montgomery County club, news of the federal investigation adds to a litany of troubles over the cancellation of a deal for children from the Creative Steps day camp to swim at the club's pool once a week over the summer.
After 56 children made their initial visit June 29, some club members complained about their presence, with one allegedly questioning why "black kids" were there. Club president John G. Duesler Jr. refunded the club's $1,950 fee and ended the arrangement.
The action led to a racial outcry against the club, which is in Huntingdon Valley and has no black members, and potential legal consequences that are now beginning to pile up.
On Tuesday, a state Human Relations Commission report that found the club racially discriminated was released by attorneys for five of the campers.
That report, based on a complaint by one child's parent, says the club shall pay a fine of up to $50,000 to the state plus other damages for how the child was treated, and that club members shall be provided anti-discrimination education.
The penalties are subject to closed-door negotiations between commission staff, Valley Club and the affected day-campers. If no settlement is reached, Human Relations Commission members would then hold an open public hearing and vote afterward on what should result. That outcome could be appealed in Commonwealth Court.
Through separate attorneys, several groups of campers have said they may also sue Valley Club.
Carolyn H. Nichols, who represents Creative Steps owner Alethea Wright and a large group of the campers, said Wednesday their clients would likely consider a federal suit after seeing how the Human Relations Commission matter plays out.
If the U.S. Department of Justice finds that Valley Club broke federal discrimination laws, it could go to court to force the club to stop discriminating but could not seek monetary damages.
Club attorney Joe Tucker did not return a call.