The Garrick Club, a famous private members club in London’s West End, is in the news as its 189 year old rule relating to male only membership rule is being challenged by Emily Bendell, founder of luxury underwear brand, Bluebella. Ms Bendell wants to join the club as a successful businesswoman and enjoy the opportunities that this offers to its currently male only membership.
At the moment, women can visit the club and its restaurant as guests of male members. However, they are not allowed to pay for themselves and may not book rooms, take part in events, or access certain parts of the club at all.
Ms Bendell has spoken out about women only being able to access the club’s services as second class citizens on the whim of a man who has to invite and pay for them.
The Equality Act 2010 has done much to protect those who have been discriminated against at work, but it is important to remember that its scope is far wider than that and protects against discrimination when goods and services are provided. The Equality Act does allow for the existence of single sex organisations, such as choirs or sports teams, but prohibits discrimination by businesses providing services to customers.
The club is providing services such as overnight accommodation, dining, bars and access to a lounge and the Equality Act prohibits discrimination against someone looking to use those services by refusing to provide them or in relation to how the services are offered.
The club’s membership is split on the men only membership issue but how to change the minds of the former conservative MPs and 11 QCs who at the last vote elected to continue to exclude women from being members of the club?
The club has been given an opportunity to change its policy but if it does not, Ms Bendell is considering pursuing an injunction to prevent the Garrick from continuing with its discriminatory membership policy. Watch this space.
Whilst this case will not be about workplace discrimination, there are implications of a men only policy in a place which provides invaluable networking opportunities and hosts business events. It is time for change to allow women to benefit fully from this and to recognise that their voices within the membership could change things for the better.
The above is accurate as at 21 September 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.