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Board of Directors of Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte

United States Supreme Court
481 U.S. 537 (1987)


The Rotary Club has historically been an all-male organization. The number of members varies, ranging from 20 to 900 members. Membership rosters are not static. Every year, approximately 10 percent of a club’s members leave. And even though membership is exclusive in that members have to meet certain requirements, clubs must admit fully qualified persons and cannot impose limits on how many members they admit. Furthermore, Rotary Club activities are not always private affairs. Members of other chapters can attend any Rotary Club meeting. Members may also invite visitors. The international organization encourages local clubs to seek newspaper coverage of meetings and other activities. When a California chapter admitted women to its roster, the international Rotary organization revoked the local California club’s charter. The California club and two female members (plaintiffs) sued the Rotary Club’s international board of directors (defendant) in state court. They argued that revoking the charter violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits "business establishments" from discriminating on the basis of sex. The trial court entered judgment for the board of directors after finding that the California club was not a business establishment for purposes of the act. The California Court of Appeal reversed, and the California Supreme Court declined to review the case. The board of directors appealed to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the California statute.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Powell, J.)

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