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Garrick Club faces legal challenge over 'gentlemen-only' membership

A female entrepreneur has instructed Leigh Day and barrister, Jennifer Danvers of Cloisters chambers, to take legal action against the Garrick Club for treating women 'less favourably than it treats men' and for putting them at a particular disadvantage as compared to men.

Posted on 08 September 2020

Emily Bendell, founder of lingerie brand Bluebella, is threatening legal action against the exclusive West End club, requesting it open its membership to women.

The club, founded in 1831, was originally formed as a meeting place for men working in drama. 

Women can attend the club but only as guests of men, they are barred from paying their own way, booking facilities that men can book and cannot attend members-only events. Effectively, women are left dependent on men inviting and paying for them in order to access the club’s services.

A letter before claim has been sent to Ann Robbie, the secretary of the Garrick, with a request for a reply by October 5.

The letter states that the Garrick is bound, under s29 Equality Act 2020, 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 outline claims for direct and indirect sex discrimination in respect of its “gentlemen only” policy.

Emily Bendell said:

“I really do feel that this is a serious issue that needs addressing. It seems wrong that these clubs still exist - I was shocked and surprised that they were able to operate such discriminatory membership rules.

"If this was a tiny little club with five members in the middle of nowhere, then that would be one thing, but this is a club in the middle of London with QCs, MPs and even Cabinet Ministers as members – these are people who are running the country. It is really, really worrying.”

She added:

"Even if you don’t talk about work, it’s about having that secret connection because you socialise together. We all know how important these invisible connections are, and in this case women are excluded from this forum. That’s why I wanted to do something about this."

Sharika Parbin, a solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“Ms Bendell has a successful career and affinity to the arts and, just as any man in her position would have the opportunity to, she wishes to become a member of the Garrick Club and access the Club’s services. 

“The Garrick is one of the oldest and best-known members’ clubs in the world, but it is holding on to values that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age. It provides services to the public and as such it is bound by the equalities law. 

“Both the firm and Ms Bendell  look forward to receiving confirmation that the Garrick Club intends to change its policy in relation to admission of female members.”