A female lingerie tycoon is taking legal action against the Garrick Club in a bid to get women admitted as members for the first time in its 189-year history.
Emily Bendell, 39, wants to join the iconic private member’s club in London – one of the oldest of its kind in the world – but cannot due to its ‘men only’ rule.
The businesswoman has now instructed lawyers to seek an injunction preventing the Garrick from ‘continuing to operate its discriminatory’ and ‘unlawful’ policy.
She argues that the Club treats women as ‘second-class citizens on the whim of a man’ and its rules are violate the Equality Act 2010.
The 1,400 member club, which was founded in 1831 and whose past members have included Charles Dickens, HG Wells and JM Barrie, still stipulates in its rules that no women are allowed to join the prestigious society.
It is regarded as one of the last men-only bastions in the UK, although female guests are welcome as visitors in most parts of the Club.
Emily Bendell, 39, wants to join the Garrick Club in London but cannot due to its ‘men only’ rule
The businesswoman has now instructed lawyers to seek an injunction preventing the Garrick Club (pictured) from ‘continuing to operate its discriminatory’ and ‘unlawful’ policy
In 2015, half its members voted in favour of allowing female members at its AGM – but it was still far short of the two-thirds majority needed for a rule change.
Now Ms Bendell, chief executive of lingerie brand Bluebella.com, has gone to solicitors Leigh Day and discrimination and equality barrister Jennifer Danvers, of Cloisters Chambers, to force the Club to overturn its ban on women members.
Her Letter Before Action states: ‘Ms Bendell is the Founder and CEO of Bluebella, a highly successful lingerie company. She is also a supporter and lover of the arts.
‘In light of her successful career and affinity with the arts she wishes to become a member of the Garrick Club. The Garrick Club is a private members club which provides services to its members and guests of its members.
Is the Garrick Club allowed to ban women from its membership?
Ms Bendell argues that the Garrick Club’s men-only membership is ‘discriminatory’ and breaches the Equality Act 2010, and is seeking an injunction to prevent such behaviour.
Section 29 of the Act prohibits service providers, and persons exercising public functions, from doing anything that constitutes discrimination, harassment or victimisation.
Though it is illegal for service-providers to discriminate against men or women depending on their sex, private members’ clubs are allowed to discriminate against male or female members based on their sex.
Private members’ clubs cannot discriminate against their employees based on their gender.
‘In order to become a member, an individual has to be proposed by two members and further supported by at least fifteen members before being put forward for ballot.
‘Only men are able to become members of the Garrick Club and make full use of the services that it provides. The Garrick Club advertises on its website that it is ‘open to gentleman members only’.
‘Male members are allowed to bring female guests into the club, but women are not able to pay for themselves when they attend, become members themselves, book the facilities that men can book, access certain parts of the club at all, or access exclusive member events.
‘In essence, women are only able to access the Club’s services as second-class citizens on the whim of a man who has to both invite and pay for them.’
The letter points out that in barring female members, the Garrick is acting in breach of the Equality Act 2010, adding: ‘The Garrick Club is concerned with the provision of services to a section of the public, including: the provision of overnight accommodation; the provision of private and other dining facilities; the provision of bars; and, access to a lounge and computer room.
‘Accordingly, the Garrick Club is bound, under s.29 Equality Act 2010, not to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services by not providing that person with the service or in relation to the terms on which that service is offered.’
The letter goes on to point out that the Garrick’s current gender policy is an act of direct discrimination towards women.
It states: ‘By (a) stating that use of the Garrick Club is restricted to ‘gentlemen members only’, (b) only allowing men to become members and use all of the services it offers, and, (c) treating women who attend the club differently to men (for example, by not allowing them to pay for themselves), the Garrick Club treats women less favourably than it treats men.
‘By advertising that it is for ‘gentlemen only’ and only allowing men to become members, the Club has treated Ms Bendell, who wishes to become a member of the club and to be able to access and use its services, less favourably than it has treated or would treat a man who wished to do the same.
‘Ms Bendell will be seeking a declaration that the Garrick Club is acting unlawfully under the Equality Act 2010 and an injunction preventing the Garrick Club from continuing to operate its discriminatory policy.’
The businesswoman has now instructed lawyers to seek an injunction preventing the Garrick from ‘continuing to operate its discriminatory’ and ‘unlawful’ policy
Ms Bendell wants the Garrick Club to give a full response within the next 28 days that it intends to change its policy.
The Garrick Club’s divisive ban on female members is an issue that has previously split the club’s high-profile membership.
In 2015 current members including actors Damian Lewis, Hugh Bonneville and Stephen Fry said they were in favour of women. They were joined in this endeavour by Michael Gove, Ken Clarke, Trevor McDonald, Melvyn Bragg and Jeremy Paxman.
But those in favour of admitting women failed to get the required 66 per cent of votes. Three former Conservative MPs and 11 QCs were among those who said they would vote to continue to exclude women members.
At the time Supreme Court Judge Baroness Hale protested about the Club’s continued exclusion of women saying: ‘I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about,’ arguing that judges ‘should be committed to the principle of equality for all.’
The Club said at the time it would revisit the vote again in five years, but no such vote has been proposed so far in 2020.
Its original selection criterion decreed that ‘it would be better that ten objectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted.’
The Garrick is one of just a handful of clubs that still refuse to admit female members. The others include White’s, Boodle’s and Pratt’s.
MailOnline has approached the Garrick Club for comment.