Is Stoddard’s Men-Only Club Legal?

In addition to the main kitchen and bar at Stoddard’s, the restaurant will house the Friday Club, a “gentlemen-only” private club in the lower level. 200 male Boston luminaries have been invited to pay the fee become founding members, spokesperson Chris Lyons tells Grub Street, and, as members, they can access the Friday Club whenever they like — and, since the club will open for members during off-hours, we do mean whenever they like. Women will only be allowed in the Friday Club as guests of the male members. Is this legal?

While the Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the specific legality of the Friday Club, Deputy Press Secretary Harry Pierce referred us to the specific branch of the Massachusetts law governing discrimination:

No owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement shall, directly or indirectly, by himself or another, publish, issue, circulate, distribute or display, or cause to be published, issued, circulated, distributed or displayed, in any way, any advertisement, circular, folder, book, pamphlet, written or painted or printed notice or sign, of any kind or description, intended to discriminate against or actually discriminating against persons of any religious sect, creed, class, race, color, denomination, sex, sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation involves minor children as the sex object, nationality, or because of deafness or blindness, or any physical or mental disability, in the full enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges offered to the general public by such places of public accommodation, resort or amusement.

Laws governing private clubs are historically less stringent than those regarding restaurants and bars open to the public, but in a 2006 case about the ban on smoking in workplaces, the State Supreme Court found that private clubs were not exempt from the law because “These membership associations are incorporated in, and receive the benefit of, Massachusetts laws and licenses.” Christina Knowles, director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women, tells Grub Street that “it’s important to note that a restaurant is a place of public accommodation, and discriminating on the basis of sex can be illegal under certain circumstances.”

Even if the Friday Club’s men-only status is legal, it seems impractical. As the owner of any bar with a Ladies Night special will tell you, trying to limit the number of women in your bar isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

Is Stoddard’s Men-Only Club Legal?