Isbister v. Boys’ Club of Santa Cruz, Inc. (1985) 40 Cal.3d 72
Several girls who were rejected from membership in a boys’ club solely on the basis of gender sued the club. The club was run by a private nonprofit charitable organization which operated similar recreational facilities nationally.
The trial court found that denial of membership on the basis of gender violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, § 51) causing harm to the rejected girls and depriving boys’ club members of a nondiscriminatory environment. Accordingly, the trial court rendered judgment permanently enjoining the club from denying membership or access to its facilities on the basis of gender.
The Supreme Court affirmed. It held that:
  1. The club was a “business establishment” covered by the act in that the Legislature intended the phrase “business establishment of every kind whatsoever” to encompass places of public accommodation or amusement.
  2. The club was a place of public accommodation, in that its recreational facilities were open to the community generally, although closed to members of a particular group, and that such facilities were the club’s principal activity and reason for existence.
  3. Participation by girls in club activities would not contravene “the nature of its business enterprise and the facilities provided,” since there was no substantial evidence that the club’s programs, services, and facilities were unsuitable for girls, or that the inclusion of both genders in these programs would diminish their value or effectiveness; nor was there proof that female membership would cause serious and permanent danger to the club’s funding or its relationship with the national organization.

The court stated that its holding did not necessarily extend to organizations which operated facilities not generally open to the public or to organizations demonstrating a compelling need to maintain single-gender facilities. And, that the Legislature was not precluded from amending the act to allow the boys’ club to maintain its male-only policy.