Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law for clubs to treat, or propose to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by law. It is also against the law to sexually harass someone.
The law covers members and committees of management. A club could be legally liable for an individual club member's discrimination if that member acted on the club's instructions or with its authority.
What kinds of clubs are covered?
According to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, a ‘club’ is:
- an association of more than 30 people associated together for social, literary, cultural, political, sporting, athletic or other lawful purposes,
- that has a liquor licence (other than a temporary limited licence or a major event liquor licence), and
- that operates its facilities wholly or partly from its own funds.
Associations or clubs that do not meet the above definition are not regulated by the Act in terms of club membership, however, they are regulated under other relevant areas of the law, including employment, goods and services, sport and providing accommodation.
How can discrimination in clubs happen?
If you are an existing member, a club must not discriminate against you by:
- depriving you of membership. For example, because you belong to a union
- changing the terms of your membership. For example, ending your life membership after discovering you are a lesbian
- refusing your application for a different type of membership. For example, only accepting people who are Anglo-Celtic into the highest class of membership
- denying or limiting your access to club benefits. For example, refusing you access to use the club's pool because you are HIV positive.
If you are applying for membership, it may be against the law for a club to discriminate against you by:
- refusing membership. For example, because you are a gay man
- setting unequal terms of membership for different membership types. For example, only accepting men as full members
- processing your membership application unfairly. For example, requiring a character reference if you come from a non-English speaking background.
Any other unfavourable treatment based on a personal characteristic protected by the law is also not permitted. For example, not allowing you to play in the club's annual football match because you have hepatitis C.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.
Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.
The Act also includes specific exceptions for clubs where some discriminatory actions may be permitted.
The following information is a guide only and is not a full list of exceptions. To avoid doubt about whether an exception might apply, please check the Act or seek further advice.
Clubs for people with particular characteristics
Certain kinds of clubs are permitted to restrict their membership or to provide different benefits to people with particular characteristics protected by the law. For example, clubs that provide benefits for members of particular age groups and single sex clubs.
Limiting access to benefits
Some clubs may be set up to provide benefits for people in a particular age group. Under reasonable circumstances, these kinds of clubs may restrict benefits to people in a particular age group, and limit access to benefits for people outside this age group.
Sometimes it is not practical for men and women in a club to access a benefit at the same time. For example a club may only have one changing room so men and women would need to access this facility at different times. In these kinds of circumstances, a club may limit access to benefits based on someone’s sex as long as:
- men and women can access to the same or equivalent service separately, or
- men and women can access a reasonably equivalent benefit.
A club may also restrict membership based on someone’s sex, if it is a single-sex club. A single-sex club must make its rules of eligibility for membership publicly available without charge.
In determining when a club can limit a member’s access to a benefit it must consider:
- why the club was established
- the kinds of benefits offered
- the opportunities for the use and enjoyment of those benefits by men and women.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form
- chat to us online
Find out more about making a complaint.