State Finds Swim Club's Actions May Be Racially Motivated

Swim Club lawyer blames "media firestorm" for ruling

Race may have been a factor in the banning of 56 minority students from the Valley Swim Club in late June, according to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).

The state board issued its first report in the investigation late Tuesday, which says there is probable cause -- reason to believe that allegations of discrimination against the campers are credible. The private swim club in Huntington Valley, Pa., "refused and denied" the campers' ability to use the facilities "due to the child's race."

Creative Steps Day Camp and The Valley Swim Club were embroiled in a national media and legal battle since racial discrimination allegations were made in early July. The camp paid $1,950 to have campers swim at the 10-acre complex on Mondays from June through August, but after two members complained on the first day, the camp's privileges were revoked and money returned.

Several students said they heard members making racial remarks while they were at The Valley Club, which members emphatically denied.

The controversy got worse when the club's president, John Duesler, issued a statement saying "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion …and the atmosphere of the club." He later apologized for making that statement, saying it was a bad choice of words and the clubs intentions from the very start were absolutely heartfelt.

The club eventually invited Creative Steps and two other camps back, but the camps declined.

In a 33-page affidavit, the commission details a previously unknown confrontation between a woman who allegedly made racial comments about the children and the camp's director.

Club member Michelle Flynn and Creative Steps director Alethea Wright had a heated argument after Flynn asked another club member "What are all of these black kids doing here?" She continued: "I am scared they might do something to my child and they might steal some of my stuff," according to documents.

Flynn and Deborah Mindel, both elementary school teachers, said they knew several of the children from their school and alleged that one had stolen a cell phone before. The PHRC found no evidence that the incident had previously occurred at the school, according to attorney Brian Mildenberg.

The case was brought before the PHRC after the mother of one of the children enrolled in the camp filed a complaint with the Human Relations Commission. Attorneys Brian and David Mildenberg, who represent four children from the camp, called the ruling a "significant victory."

The PHRC cited the race of the Valley Club's membership and marketing efforts as probable cause for the rulings. In the past two years, the club's 150-plus membership was all white, according to committee documents. They also said the club made direct marketing efforts towards white neighborhoods while not targeting other races at all.

Mildenberg said the club's actions caused emotional and psycholocal damage to the children. He referenced one situation after the incident where a five-year old camper told his mother he had to "'stay in the bathtub longer so he could get his skin lighter.'"

The HRC findings recommend a cash settlement of up to $50,000 for the unidentified woman and her child.

Valley Club lawyer Joe Tucker said Tuesday night that the findings were wrong but "the media firestorm" surrounding the case gave the state panel no choice but to reach the conclusion it did.

Both sides will now try to settle the case voluntarily, much like mediation.

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