NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Supreme Court (search) Tuesday ordered a country club to open its men-only restaurant to women, rejecting claims that members sometimes dine there in the nude.
"In the twenty-first century, it is simply archaic to cite protection of women from the sights and sounds of a locker room environment as an excuse for excluding them from the public dining area as it exists in this country club," Justice John L. Weimer (search) wrote for the unanimous court.
The decision upheld an appeals court ruling against Southern Trace Country Club (search) in Shreveport. The club has three restaurants; only The Men's Grille is open Sundays.
According to the high court, the club failed to prove its claim that allowing women into the restaurant would violate men's privacy.
Weimer noted a privacy screen is often put in the hall between the restaurant and locker room so women can dine in the restaurant.
Though witnesses testified some men eat at the restaurant dressed in a towel or nothing at all, that violates the club's own dress code requiring "casual but appropriate attire" in dining areas, Weimer wrote.
The locker room itself has tables where men can eat, he added.
"When the men-only discriminatory policy is eliminated, use of the privacy screen and enforcement of the dress code ... will maintain the men's locker room environment inviolate and at the same time accommodate those members and guests of both genders who have no penchant for dining in an area with men in various stages of undress," Weimer wrote.
Julie Lafargue had sued the club and its owner, Club Corporation of America, after she and two friends went to The Men's Grille after playing a Sunday round of golf in 2000. One of her guests and three other female club members also are plaintiffs.
A lower court judge ruled the discrimination was reasonable because it was "dictated by economic reasons, and not an intent to discriminate," Weimer noted. But he said that would be like letting airlines keep men from being flight attendants because passengers are thought to prefer attractive women in the job.
"We always thought we were right," said Allison Jones, attorney for the women.
Southern Trace issued a statement saying it would comply with the court's ruling.