25 Years Since Frank v. Ivy Club

This year, today is the day when Independence Day, which falls on July 4, is observed, and so the courts are closed.  But in some other years, the courts have been open on July 3, and the Supreme Court has issued some important rulings on that date.  One such case, decided exactly 25 years ago today, was Frank v. Ivy Club, 120 N.J. 73 (1990).

The case involved three eating clubs at Princeton University that had long been all-male.  Plaintiff Sally Frank, who had been a student at Princeton, began proceedings before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights against the clubs for gender discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. (“LAD”).  The case had a long and convoluted procedural history.  Eventually, however, the matter reached the Supreme Court.

The focus of the arguments there was on whether the Division had jurisdiction over the clubs, who asserted that they were purely private entities.  In a unanimous opinion by Justice Garibaldi, the Court held that there was jurisdiction.  Justice Garibaldi observed that Princeton University was “undisputably subject to LAD.”  She went on to conclude that because the clubs and the University had an “interdependent relationship,” as established by the undisputed facts, the clubs had lost their private status and were subject to the jurisdiction of the Division.

The finding for which the case is best known– that the clubs unlawfully discriminated against women students and could no longer do so– occupied just a single short paragraph near the end of the opinion.  “The Clubs have fiercely contested the issue of jurisdiction because, once jurisdiction is established, there is no question that the Clubs discriminated against women.  It is undisputed that the Clubs had a general policy that excluded females from consideration as members.  It is also undisputed that the Clubs applied this policy to Frank when she attempted to Bicker [the process for joining the clubs] at the clubs.  That policy constituted discrimination in violation of LAD.  On the basis of the facts in this record, we agree with the Division that the Clubs cannot sever their ties to the University or remove themselves from the jurisdiction of the Division.  Instead, the Clubs must obey this State’s substantive legal proscriptions against discrimination and discontinue their practice of excluding women purely on the basis of gender.”

Sally Frank began her case in 1979.  By the time it reached the Supreme Court, she had graduated from law school.  She argued the case in the Supreme Court pro se.  The Deputy Attorney General who represented the Division in the Supreme Court was none other than Susan L. Reisner, now a judge of the Appellate Division.