Both sides react to swim club racism finding

PHILADELPHIA - September 23, 2009 RELATED DOCUMENT: Read the finding of probable cause

The Valley Club in predominantly white Huntingdon Valley, Pa., 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 HRC report documented multiple racist comments to club members who were angry to find the minority youngsters in the pool.

For example, one statement attributed to Michelle Flynn who is, ironically, a teacher at the school many of the children attended, used a vulgarity to express her dismay:

"I am [expletive] that they are here. This is my swim club," the report alleged she said.

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.

Valley Swim Club's responded with a statement, which read:

    The media and political firestorm surrounding this case gave the PHRC little choice to reach a finding of Probable Cause. In fact, the PHRC made its finding within hours of the Valley Swim Club filing its Answer to the Complaint.

    We disagree with the recommendation made by the PHRC. It is not binding upon the Valley Swim Club. Because we believe a full and through review of the evidence will not support the PHRC's findings, the Valley Swim Club plans to appeal the recommendation. The decision to cease all swim camps at the Valley Swim Club had nothing to do with race. The Valley Swim Club did not discriminate against the Creative Steps Day Camp. The Valley Swim Club and its members look forward to the opportunity to tell their side of the story and to share actual facts regarding their decision.

    We will continue to work towards a fair resolution for all parties involved by focusing on the best solution for the children of the Camp.

The director of Creative Steps, Alethea Wright, addressed the media in front of the Swim Club on Wednesday, which is now closed for the season.

"I am very excited about the ruling, because there were numerous comments made throughout the summer that the allegations that I was making, I was blowing them out of proportion, so to speak," said Wright. "There was a thorough investigation, there was no swaying to either side, they were very fair in the investigation."

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has ordered the swim club to pay a $50,000 civil penalty, plus other expense, per child involved. Since there were 67 children involved, fines could ultimately reach around $4 million. That figure is according to the attorneys for Creative Steps.

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."

Attorneys for the swim club said they will exercise their right to appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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