TRENTON — A state agency has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Pine Valley Golf Club, accusing the South Jersey institution of widespread discrimination against women.

Pine Valley, known as one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the country, violated state law for years “by prohibiting women from membership and otherwise restricting their ability to play golf and access at club facilities,” the Civil Rights Division said.

A club representative could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The division acknowledged that Pine Valley had dropped its ban on female members and removed other restrictions by spring 2021, but said it did so “only in the face of DCR’s investigation.”

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Among other allegations, the agency claims the club used “discriminatory covenants to prevent women from owning (one of 19) homes on club grounds unless they co-own a home with a man”.

He also said the club’s employment practices discriminate against both women and men.

For example, he said, recruitment has been primarily by word of mouth from a predominantly male workforce, which “deprives people who do not identify as men of the possibility of being informed of employment opportunities.

He also claimed the club banned employees from discussing their salary, a violation of state law.

The division said women made up just 4% of club staff, with most employed as dishwashers, laundresses and canteen workers.

He also noted “a continuing shortage” of female members.

He said three women were among the club’s 700 members in July 2021, “less than 0.5% of its total membership”.

The division has acknowledged that private clubs like Pine Valley are exempt from state protections against discrimination in public accommodations.

But he claims Pine Valley cannot invoke that shield “because the club was so deeply tied to the old borough of Pine Valley.”

The borough, which covered less than an acre, merged with neighboring Pine Hill earlier this year.

Prior to the merger, the 108-year-old club “owned all of the land in the borough of Pine Valley; effectively controlled its operations; and was the primary beneficiary of services and benefits provided by his government,” the division said.

Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other topics for the Courier-Post, the Burlington County Times and the Daily Journal.

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