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Muirfield Golf Club - the legal position

6th June 2016

Muirfield Golf Club has attracted widespread media attention regarding the decision to continue to exclude women.   We have been asked whether this is lawful.

As a starting point, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex.  But there are some exceptions. Tucked away near the back of the Act is a provision which says that “single characteristic associations” can restrict membership to those who share the same protected characteristic.

This means that where a private club is set up for those with a particular characteristic (including for example sex, disability, age) the club is permitted to limit membership to that particular group.  So for example a private club or group for those suffering from a particular medical condition is permitted. Likewise a private club for men only (or indeed women only) is also permitted.

Should that exception continue to be lawful? Different people have different views. But where the tide of other legislation continues to push towards an equal platform for men and women (for example shared parental leave for fathers and mothers and gender pay gap reporting), some believe this exception is now outdated.

For further information, please contact Jacqueline McCluskey.

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