Local/State

Montco swim club settles minority bias case

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Word spread quickly at Creative Steps, Inc. that a settlement reached by the Department of Justice means that as much as $1.1-million will be shared by the 73 children and counselors who were discriminated against by the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley.

"I'm happy even though it's been some time that justice was done, and that all the children will receive a reward financially for being courageous, standing up for what is right," Antonio Wright of Creative Steps, Inc. said.

It was back in June of 2009, that 65 black and Hispanic children from Northeast Philadelphia had visited the Valley Club to begin a weekly swim camp which had been paid for in advance.

But children say soon, white club members began pulling their children out of the water and making racial remarks.

"I overheard a lady say, 'What are all these black kids doing here?' And she was afraid that we might do something to her child," 14-year-old Dymir Baylor said in 2009.

A few days later, the club canceled the camp's eight-week contract and refunded the $2,000 they had paid. Club officials said it was because there weren't enough lifeguards for the 65 campers, many of whom couldn't swim.

Then-club president John Duesler inflamed tensions with a statement saying so many children would "change the complexion," or atmosphere, of the club. He later acknowledged using a poor choice of words.

The club eventually filed for bankruptcy amid protests and negative publicity. It was bought in May 2010 by a Philadelphia synagogue for nearly $1.5 million with most of the cash going to the children and counselors who were discriminated against.

Among them is 9-year-old Damian Maisonet who was 6 at the time.

"I think it'll be good because we could save our money to go to college," Damian Maisonet said.

Damian's mother says she's relieved that it's finally over.

"To this day, my son is still remorse about what happened. Every time we go into a club or a pool, the first thing he asks is, 'Are we members?' And I say, 'Yes we are,'" Yvette Maisonet said.

A joint statement by the attorneys for the children says in part, "We believe the settlement sends a strong message that racial discrimination against children will not be tolerated."

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge, also provides for $65,000 to create a leadership council composed of campers, their families and former pool members. The group will plan joint educational and recreational opportunities to help promote community healing.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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pennsylvania, montgomery county, local/state, dann cuellar
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