Clubs and the Human Rights Act

Can I be denied membership of a club?

The Human Rights Act has a special exception for clubs. The exception allows clubs to have membership criteria which are discriminatory. For example, senior citizens clubs can require members to be over 60.  However, once the eligibility for membership is satisfied a club can not then discriminate within that membership.  For example, if eligibility for a senior citizen’s club is open to anyone over 60, it cannot then say we will only accept men over 60.

What is a club?

A club is made up of a group of people who meet voluntarily on a regular basis. A club must comply with the rules that govern its organisation. There are different types of clubs.

A members’ club is basically private and is made up of people who contribute to the club’s funds which are used to pay the club’s expenses. It can include an incorporated society.

An unincorporated proprietary club is one where someone owns the property and funds of the club and conducts the club with a view to making a profit. Members are entitled to use the premises and property in exchange for the payment of entrance fees and subscriptions to the proprietor as well as any additional rights and privileges provided in their contractual agreement. Proprietary clubs cannot rely on the exception in the HRA.

If a club provides services or facilities to its members, can it refuse to provide those services or facilities to other people?

Clubs that allow their services or facilities to be used by the public may not be covered by the exception in the Human Rights Act.   For example if a club opens its facilities to a group broader than its own members or members of affiliated clubs, the club may not be able to rely on the exception in the Human Rights Act. This has yet to be tested in the courts.

Can a club run events that seem discriminatory such as ‘women’s card nights’ or bowling for couples?

Yes. Clubs often hold events such as women only golf tournaments that appear to be discriminatory. The discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act do not apply to the way services or facilities are provided to club members.

Can different clubs belonging to the same association (for example, RSAs) provide services differently and, if so, what does that mean for members of different clubs?

Different clubs belonging to the same association may provide services differently.  However, one club cannot deny members of another club belonging to the same association access to facilities or services on one of the grounds on which it is unlawful to discriminate. For example, if one bowling club allows men and women members, and a second only men, if the first bowling club is visiting the men-only club, the visiting women cannot be prevented from using its services if the clubs are part of the same association.

Does the exception apply to employment?

No. The exception only applies to membership of a club. The usual laws relating to employment apply to club employees.