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Pa. swim club faces discrimination lawsuit

/ Source: The Associated Press

A discrimination lawsuit has been filed against a suburban Philadelphia swim club that canceled the pool memberships of dozens of minority children.

The lawsuit alleges that The Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley discriminated against the children on the basis of race.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Friday, demands unspecified damages on behalf of several unnamed children and parents. Two attorneys are seeking class-action status for a group that could number 60 children and 120 parents.

Attorney Brian R. Mildenberg said the swim club has offered to let the children back to the pool, but that he and his clients are moving forward with the suit for now.

"We commend the club for making that offer," he said at a news conference Monday. "If (the parents are) satisfied with that offer, then we'd be prepared to recommend to withdraw the lawsuit."

But he added that at least one parent wanted to pursue the lawsuit regardless.

Safety concerns or racism?
The Creative Steps camp had arranged for 65 mostly black and Hispanic children to swim each Monday afternoon at the gated Huntingdon Valley club, which is on a leafy hillside in a village straddling two overwhelmingly white townships.

But after the group arrived June 29, camp director Alethea Wright said, several children reported hearing racial comments and some swim club members pulled their children out of the pool.

The camp's $1,950 was refunded a few days later.

The president of the swim club's board of directors, John Duesler, has said the decision was made because there were too many children in the pool and the situation was unsafe, not because of racial concerns.

Amy Goldman, a member of The Valley Club, said those able to attend a hastily called meeting Sunday afternoon voted unanimously in support of reinstating the memberships of the Creative Steps day camp and two other camps as long as safety issues, times and terms can be agreed upon.

"We have near-unanimous approval from our membership, so at this point we'll be figuring out ... how to approach all the camps and see how we can move forward," Duesler told WPVI-TV at the club's entrance on Sunday.

No black members
The swim club has claimed it has a diverse, multi-ethnic membership, but Goldman, a member for two years, said she couldn't remember seeing a black member this year.

Goldman said members were told that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which has opened an investigation, is to make a fact-finding visit to the club July 30. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said Friday he had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "to determine what action, if any, is warranted by the Civil Rights Division."

Others to criticize the club include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United States' highest-profile black swimmer, Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones.