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Private club, society or association discrimination

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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Under the Equality Act 2010, a private club, society and/or association, must not discriminate against an individual or group of people. 

What is discrimination? 

Discrimination is the unequal treatment of an individual or a number of persons who are considered to be protected persons under the Equality Act.  

An individual is protected from discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act if it can be proven that the unequal treatment that they have been subjected to was due to their age, race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, religious beliefs, pregnancy or maternity. 

So what is a private club, society and/or association? 

It can be difficult to identify whether or not a club or society is bound by the Equality Act. For example, a gym or health club, where an individual pays a fee to use the facilities is not considered to be an association. Instead the law considers these types of organisations to be service providers and as such they are bound by the terms of the Equality Act in that capacity.

The Equality Act applies to associations in a different way to that which it applies to businesses or organisations operating as service providers. Associations often exercise restrictions on the membership of their organisation with direct reference to some of the groups of individuals who are considered to be protected under the Equality Act. 

A private club or society is considered to be an association if it has 25 or more members and operates a genuine selection process which an individual must fulfil in order to become a member. An association can include the following: 

  • Private sports clubs; 
  • Private members clubs; 
  • Rotary clubs; 
  • Young peoples organisations; and 
  • Other clubs promoting a variety of interests. 

Note, that it is possible for a club to be an association and a service provider. It achieves this by fulfilling the above criteria, however also offering services or the use of their facilities to the wider public, in exchange for payment. 

However, if a club is not classed as a service provider and does not have 25 members or more and/or does not employ a genuine selection process for the appointment of it’s members’, the club will not be bound by the terms of the Equality Act and therefore claims of discrimination under the legislation cannot be brought against it. 

What should you do? 

If you feel that you have been discriminated against by a private club, society or association you should immediately raise a complaint. 

You may also be able to bring a claim in the County Court for unlawful discrimination under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Please be aware that strict time limits apply to claims of this nature, and you only have six months less one day from the discriminatory act to bring a claim in the County Court. It is therefore imperative that you seek legal advice without delay. 

If you need further advice regarding discrimination law, please contact our team on 01616 966 229.

By Hannah Wilson, employment and discrimination advisor.