The Jonathan Club, an exclusive private club accused of discriminating against women, has agreed to serve women who wish to dine in the formerly all-male sanctum of the club's bar and grill, attorneys told a Los Angeles federal judge Monday.
"Despite the fact there has been a tradition which preserves those facilities for men, if a woman walked in and requested service, she would be served, no questions asked," attorney John R. Shiner said.
The policy announcement threw into doubt the club's federal lawsuit challenging a 1987 Los Angeles ordinance barring bias against women members of private clubs, raising questions about whether the club is violating the ordinance.
City officials--who sued the club under the ordinance in Los Angeles Superior Court last year, claiming it continues to discriminate against women--said the club's continuing "tradition" against women in the second-floor bar and grill has effectively discouraged their use of the facility.
"The Jonathan Club admits that, by tradition, women are not allowed in this area, and they defend vigorously their right to have that tradition," Assistant City Atty. Annette Keller said.
With the new policy, she said, "they merely say if a woman ever does insist on being served, she will be."
The 3,000-member downtown club, a place where important business transactions are often conducted over cocktails or lunch, has asked U.S. District Judge Jesse V. Curtis to declare the city's ordinance unconstitutional.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a similar New York ordinance against challenges by several nationwide men's organizations, the high court's ruling left--for certain "distinctly private" clubs, including the Jonathan--the right of private association under the First Amendment, Shiner said.
"One of the reasons we're here is the club feels very strongly about its ability to maintain traditions," the attorney said. "So long as the membership, which is made up of men and women, agree to these traditions, it's not for the city or any other government agency to step in and say that's wrong."
In light of the club's announcement that it will serve women in the bar and grill, however, Curtis said it may be improper for a federal judge to rule on the constitutionality of the ordinance as applied to the club.
Rather, it might be preferable to first allow a state judge, in proceedings now under way in Superior Court, to first determine whether the club is still in violation of the ordinance, the judge said.
Unless that happens, he said, "you don't have a federal question."
"We don't have a rule that is discriminatory to the dimension that it reaches a constitutional challenge, in my opinion," the judge said.
Let Matter Rest
Curtis indicated that he would not rule immediately but said that he was inclined to let the matter rest until the state court has ruled.
However, city officials have urged the federal court to dismiss the club's constitutional challenge outright, arguing that constitutional issues can be weighed by a state judge as well.