$1.4 million settlement in Valley Club Swim case

(left to right) Gab­ri­el Lev­in, Mar­cus Al­len, 14, Althea Right (in front of mi­cro­phones), Dav­id and Bri­an Milden­berg, and Mikel McKin­nie, 12, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence an­noun­cing camp Cre­at­ive Steps award of $1.1 mil­lion in set­tle­ment over a law­suite in 2009 with The Val­ley Club in Hunt­ing­ton Val­ley, which is no longer in ex­ist­ence since the law­suite began, Fri­day, Au­gust 17, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

The U.S. Justice De­part­ment an­nounced that it has reached a set­tle­ment agree­ment with the Val­ley Club, a Hunt­ing­don Val­ley swim club whose mem­bers al­legedly dis­crim­in­ated against minor­ity chil­dren from an Ox­ford Circle day camp in June 2009.

Pro­ceeds from the $1.4 mil­lion May 2010 sale of the Tom­lin­son Road club, less court costs and fees, will be paid to more than 50 chil­dren from the Cre­at­ive Steps day camp, their coun­selors and the camp, the Justice De­part­ment an­nounced on Aug. 16. 

More than 70 plaintiffs —campers, coun­selors and Cre­at­ive Steps — will share in $1.1 mil­lion, said at­tor­ney Gab­ri­el Lev­in, who rep­res­en­ted the plaintiffs along with Dav­id and Bri­an Milden­berg.

“It’s a bit­ter­sweet mo­ment,” Cre­at­ive Steps dir­ect­or Alethea Wright said dur­ing a  Fri­day even­ing news con­fer­ence out­side the day camp’s new loc­a­tion on the 8000 block of Frank­ford Ave.  “We can get past ra­cism.”

There is a les­son in what happened, she said. “Get to know someone be­fore you judge them.”

The agree­ment still needs to be ap­proved by a Bank­ruptcy Court judge be­fore it can be­come fi­nal.

The saga began in mid-2009 when the New Frank­ford Com­munity Y closed. The Cre­at­ive Steps’ day camp kids swam there three times a week. An­oth­er area pool was able to provide swim­ming to the chil­dren twice a week. To get that third day in, ar­range­ments were made with the Val­ley Club, which is just over the county line from the Philmont Heights sec­tion of Somer­ton.

At the time, the Val­ley Club’s board was look­ing to bring kids in­to the more than half-cen­tury-old private club be­cause it was try­ing to in­crease fam­ily mem­ber­ships. The idea was that kids who vis­ited the club dur­ing the sum­mer would en­joy them­selves, tell their par­ents about it and their par­ents would want to join.

Cre­at­ive Steps’ dir­ect­or, Alethea Wright, paid al­most $2,000 for her campers’ weekly vis­its to the Val­ley Club. On June 29, 2009, Wright and more than 50 black and Latino chil­dren ar­rived at the club, were greeted by the pres­id­ent of the club’s board of dir­ect­ors, John Duesler, and then went swim­ming. That is when some mem­bers al­legedly made ra­cial re­marks and com­plained to dir­ect­ors about the chil­dren’s pres­ence. The club on Ju­ly 3 backed out of the deal with Cre­at­ive Steps and re­turned the camp’s cash.

The club later re­in­vited the campers, but only after the ra­cism al­leg­a­tions made loc­al, na­tion­al and then in­ter­na­tion­al news. The of­fer to Cre­at­ive Steps to re­turn to the swim club was ig­nored and there were sev­er­al protests out­side the club. There was a Pennsylvania Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion in­vest­ig­a­tion and re­port. Then, there were law­suits, one filed by the U.S. Justice De­part­ment and by the kids’ fam­il­ies.

Faced with the pos­sib­il­ity of judg­ments that would fin­an­cially cripple the club, its board voted to file for bank­ruptcy in Novem­ber 2009. That fil­ing forced the sale of the club’s only as­set, its 10-acre prop­erty on Tom­lin­son Road.

ldquo;No one may be denied the right to use a swim­ming pool be­cause of their race or the col­or of their skin,” said As­sist­ant At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion. ldquo;The Justice De­part­ment will con­tin­ue to pro­tect vig­or­ously the rights of per­sons of all races to be free from dis­crim­in­a­tion in pub­lic ac­com­mod­a­tions across the coun­try.”

ldquo;This set­tle­ment provides sig­ni­fic­ant op­por­tun­ity to chil­dren who were denied an op­por­tun­ity based on their skin col­or,” said JoAnn Ed­wards, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Pennsylvania Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion. “Our hope is that this case serves as pre­ven­tion for years to come and a re­mind­er that dis­crim­in­a­tion is il­leg­al, and has no place in Pennsylvania.”

The set­tle­ment also re­quires that $65,000  be set aside from the pro­ceeds of the sale of the Val­ley Club prop­erty for the cre­ation of a lead­er­ship coun­cil that com­prises former Val­ley Club mem­bers, Cre­at­ive Steps coun­selors, campers and their fam­il­ies. The chil­dren and fam­il­ies af­fected by the Val­ley Club in­cid­ent will take lead­er­ship roles in plan­ning swim­ming, edu­ca­tion­al and re­cre­ation­al op­por­tun­it­ies for the com­munity. ull;•

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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