By Robert Harris*
Discrimination: (Un)Lawful Or (Un)Acceptable?
The sometimes complicated relationship between lawful behavior and acceptable conduct is demonstrated by the perennial April discussion about Augusta National’s gender discriminatory membership policy. This discussion has attained a heightened level of interest with IBM’s recent appointment of Ginnie Rometty as its Chief Executive Officer.
Augusta National traditionally has bestowed honorary membership upon the person occupying the office, who, until Ms. Rometty came along, was male. Possessing Augusta National membership apparently requires possessing XY chromosomes.
From a legal standpoint, one would be hard pressed to argue Ms. Rometty’s membership exclusion is unlawful. Private clubs and organizations may limit their memberships on the basis of gender, race, religion and other criteria. Indeed, many people would agree that it is appropriate for a group of men to share a weekly poker game, for women executives to network among themselves, and for Lithuanian-Americans to perpetuate their culture. Largely, the public accepts the existence of closed memberships when they are viewed as providing opportunities to foster positive aspects of member identity.
However, when organizations are viewed as promoting exclusion, public perception of their acceptability changes. A country club that largely limits its membership to white, Christian males finds it difficult to offer as a rationale that its motivation is to beneficially enhance the racial, religious or gender identity of its membership.
While lawful, a private club’s discriminatory membership policy may come with a price. For example, last December, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States sanctioned a federal bankruptcy judge for maintaining membership in a private club that denied membership to women and African-Americans. The judge was found to have violated the Code of Conduct for federal judges, which provides that “a judge should not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin.”
Similarly, golf’s governing bodies—including the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, the USGA and the LPGA—have policies that prevent them from hosting events at clubs with discriminatory membership policies.
Viewed in this context, it is not surprising that Augusta National finds its membership policies the target of criticism. By hosting the Masters, the club creates a public spectacle without making itself a public facility.
Just as the club lives with this conflict, so do those of us who partake—some would say enable—by watching, playing, networking and marketing the tournament. We enjoy the spectacle, while professing discomfort about the club’s membership policy.
[This article may constitute Attorney Advertising in some jurisdictions. It is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Harris is an attorney, arbitrator and mediator who represents and advises business clients regarding contractual and other relationship matters that are critical to their operations. A fuller biography of Mr. Harris is available at http://www.levettrockwood.com
and he can be reached at email@example.com
or (203) 222-3122.
Originally posted by RobertHarris
on 11 Apr 2012.
All contributors: ClifKussmaul
Post Fan Comment!
If you enjoyed reading Discrimination: (Un)Lawful Or (Un)Acceptable?
, you can post a note to the authors that contributed to the article. Your positive feedback is greatly appreciated! The notes are posted to the contributing author's Member Page (which you can view by clicking on the author's name above).
If you have any questions or constructive criticism, please don't post them here. Instead, click on the "Discuss" tab to leave a note on how to improve the article.
Rate This Article
View top-rated articles!
You need to Login or register to rate articles.
| Accuracy || My vote: 0, Total votes: 0, Avg. vote: 0 |
| Usefulness || My vote: 0, Total votes: 0, Avg. vote: 0 |