Private Clubs Can Legally Discriminate

The Masters - Final Round

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - How can it be that in the year 2012, private clubs are legally allowed to discriminate?

Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Master’s Tournament, seems to have a problem on its hands, and it’s not the legality of its males-only membership policy. It’s a PR problem.

The last four CEOs of IBM – sponsor of the Masters – have been members. As of January 1, IBM’s CEO is a female. The club may decide it’s in its best interest to admit women, but shouldn’t the law have taken care of this one long ago?

While public accommodations, places like theaters, restaurants, and clubs are subject to antidiscrimination laws, truly private clubs are not. To be considered truly private, a club must reserve its facilities for members, and must have genuinely exclusive membership criteria – a club that will admit anyone who is not a woman, or African American for example does not qualify.

So while Augusta may, in fact be truly private and therefore not required by law to admit women, it may truly decide that while it doesn’t mind annoying an entire gender, antagonizing a big sponsor may be the wrong approach.

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