Philadelphia-area swim club settles minority discrimination case

Dozens of black and Hispanic children who said they experienced racial discrimination at a swim club in an overwhelmingly white suburb will share proceeds from the sale of the club, which filed for bankruptcy after their allegations, according to a settlement made public Thursday.

The agreement, announced by the Department of Justice, resolves federal, state and private complaints filed against the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley.

"No one may be denied the right to use a swimming pool because of their race or the color of their skin," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement.

The children were enrolled in the Philadelphia-based day camp Creative Steps, which had a contract to use the pool in June 2009. But campers reported hearing racial slurs at the club. Creative Steps director Alethea Wright said some club members took their children out of the pool.

A few days later, the club canceled the camp's eight-week contract and refunded its money. Club officials said it was because there weren't enough lifeguards for the 65 campers, many of whom couldn't swim.

Then-club president John Duesler inflamed tensions with a statement saying so many children would "change the complexion," or atmosphere, of the club. He later acknowledged using a poor choice of words.

The club eventually filed for bankruptcy amid protests and negative publicity. It was bought in May 2010 by a Philadelphia synagogue for nearly $1.5 million.

Campers will get a portion of that money after court costs are paid. That could leave up to $1.1 million to be shared among 73 people, including children, counselors and camp directors, plaintiffs lawyers Brian Mildenberg and Gabriel Levin said Thursday.

"We believe the settlement sends a strong message that racial discrimination against children will not be tolerated," Mildenberg and Levin said.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge, also provides for $65,000 to create a leadership council composed of campers, their families and former pool members. The group will plan joint educational and recreational opportunities to help promote community healing.