PHILADELPHIA — A state panel has found probable cause of racial discrimination at a suburban Philadelphia swim club that asked a day camp group of mostly black and Hispanic children not to return, a ruling the club's lawyer blamed late Tuesday on the "media firestorm" that followed the incident.
The Valley Club in predominantly white Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, has denied there was any racial motive behind its actions June 29, when children from Creative Steps Inc. day camp went to the club and their payment for swimming was refunded without explanation. The club has maintained that there were too many children for the number of lifeguards on duty and that many of the children who were at the club couldn't swim.
Brian Mildenberg, a lawyer for a black girl who was part of the day camp group, said at a news conference Tuesday night that the report from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission was the result of a thorough fact-finding process.
"They looked at all the e-mails that went back and forth," Mildenberg said.
The messages quoted in the report include one from club board member George Whitehill to the rest of the board that said in part, "Race is an issue since every email of complaint mentioned race."
The girl Mildenberg represents says she heard a member of The Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley ask, "What are all these black kids doing here?" and say, "I am scared they might do something to my child."
The state report also noted that other large groups that came to the swim club did not generate the same reaction. For example, a plumbing company has held an annual party at the club that draws about 100 to 125 people each year, about five to 10 of them black, the report said. It found that far more children were in the pool for those parties, yet no club members threatened to quit and guests did not report "inappropriate or rude comments" from club members.
Club lawyer Joe Tucker said Tuesday night that the decision "has nothing to do with the actual facts" and would be appealed.
"The die was cast by the media firestorm. They had no choice but to reach the decision they did," Tucker said.
The summer incident made headlines around the country and led to a U.S. Justice Department review. It also got the attention of actor Tyler Perry, who offered to pay for the children from the day camp to go to Walt Disney World.
Much of the attention focused on an earlier statement by the president of the club's board of directors, John Duesler, voicing concern that so many children would "change the complexion" or atmosphere of the club, which he acknowledged was "a terrible choice of words."
Creative Steps and the majority of the children are represented by attorney Michael Kuldiner, who said Tuesday night that he would address the matter Wednesday morning.
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