Pennsylvania Racial Bias Case Includes Diversity Provision
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A recently settled racial discrimination lawsuit involving dozens of Hispanic and black city children who said they were shunned by a swim club in an overwhelmingly white suburban neighborhood includes an unusual provision that aims to heal the wounds caused by the ordeal.
Parents and children from the Creative Steps day camp in Philadelphia and The Valley Club in Huntington Valley are looking forward to planning activities together, attorneys said Friday. The settlement, which still needs to be approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, calls for $65,000 to be set aside to be used on joint activities.
“The hopes are that both sides will come together, hold events together,” said Brian Mildenberg, an attorney for Creative Steps. “Swimming, field trips, going places together, maybe day camps, just to be kids together, learn about each other and interact with one another.”
Between 15 and 20 parents have agreed to participate and “want this outreach to work on healing what happened that day,” he said.
The money will be held by the federal district court in Pennsylvania and, upon application by the group, could be released to pay for events.
Such remedies are unusual in lawsuits, but this one came about at the urging of the parties involved, Mildenburg’s co-counsel Gabriel Levin said.
“There was a real feeling that something needed to be done more than just sue the pool,” Levin said. “The parents on both sides wanted to right what happened on that day, and it was out of that desire that this idea (came about) and that’s why we’re doing it.”
The rest of the $1.1 million settlement, announced Thursday by the Department of Justice, will be divided among 73 children and camp counselors who were discriminated against.
The Creative Steps camp had paid $1,950 for 65 mostly black and Hispanic children to swim each Monday afternoon at the gated swim club, set on a leafy hillside straddling two overwhelmingly white townships.
But after the group arrived for its first visit on June 29, 2009, several children reported hearing racial comments and seeing some white swim club members pulling their children out of the pool. The club told the children not to return, and the day camp’s payment was refunded.
Swim club officials said they didn’t have enough lifeguards for the kids, many of whom couldn’t swim. Then-club president John Duesler inflamed tensions with a statement saying so many children would “change the complexion,” or atmosphere, of the club, but he later acknowledged using a poor choice of words.
A Department of Justice investigation concluded that racial hostility prompted club members to turn away the children.
The incident led to protests and condemnation by USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus and Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, the country’s highest-profile black swimmer. It also got the attention of actor Tyler Perry, who paid for the day camp children to go to Walt Disney World.
The swim club filed for bankruptcy in November 2009, and a local synagogue bought the 10.5-acre property at auction for $1.5 million.
Levin said what happened to the swim club sends a clear message.
“Look at the consequences of acting in this fashion,” Levin said. “The pool had to declare bankruptcy. All of its assets were liquidated. If society doesn’t learn from this, I’d be surprised.”
A message left Friday for an attorney representing the former swim club’s bankruptcy trustee was not immediately returned.
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