Philadelphia Youth Groups to Share $65,000 in Racial-Discrimination Settlement

By Julissa Catalan

Funds from a 2009 swim-club discrimination settlement have been distributed to six youth groups in the Philadelphia area.

In June of that summer, Creative Steps Day Camp of Northeast Philadelphia paid $1,950 to have its campers gain pool access on Mondays from June to August at The Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley.

On the first Monday, 56 Black and Latino campers were kicked out of the swim clubwith their share of the $1,950 reimbursedand told not to come back.

While The Valley Swim Club maintained that the move was not race-related, but rather a matter of too many children for the lifeguards on duty to manage, the Justice Department found enough evidence during its investigation to support the allegations of racial discrimination.

Further implicating the club, president John Duesler released a statement at the time of the investigation that said, “There was a concern that a lot of the kids would change the complexion and the atmosphere of the club.”

In a 33-page affidavit, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) detailed the confrontation that led to the racial-discrimination allegations.

Club member Michelle Flynn and Creative Steps director Alethea Wright had an argument after Wright overheard Flynn asking another club member, “What are all of these Black kids doing here” Wright also heard Flynn say, “I am scared they might do something to my child and they might steal some of my stuff.”

Flynn, an elementary school teacher and one of 150 members at the all-white club, claimed that some of the summer-camp children were also students at her school and had been accused of stealing a cell phone.

According to attorney Brian Mildenberg, the PHRC found no evidence of such an incident at the school.

The legal documents also noted that the club made conscious marketing efforts toward white neighborhoods, while purposely excluding underrepresented communities.

The youth groups are set to receive a combined $65,000 of the $1.1 million payout; the 73 Black and Latino campers and counselors who filed the lawsuit will receive the remainder of the settlement funds.

Two nonprofits receiving funding from the suit are the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia and the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia.

The Valley Swim Club filed for bankruptcy and closed in November 2009, amidst the pending lawsuit. It was sold in June 2010 for $1.46 million.

“This settlement provides significant opportunity to children who were denied an opportunity based on their skin color,” said JoAnn Edwards, Executive Director of the PHRC, in 2012. “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.”

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