Lawrence and Ynez Kates, a Jewish couple was denied Port Royal Club membership in March of 1979 when they bought a home in Naples most exclusive district, received $200,000 in an out-of-court settlement of their $30 million federal suit against the club, which agreed to change its membership rules, Miami attorney Richard Arnold said.
According to court records, prospective homebuyers, usually a man and his wife, would have personal interviews with committee members. The buyers would answer questions about finances, business backgrounds and various other personal matters. Buyers were told they would be contacted later with the committee decision.
Arnold said club members never approved new members by majority vote. The decisions were left to a 10- to 12- member admissions committee that didn’t know it was violating housing laws.
“We found that at least 17 families, including three that were Jewish who were denied membership,” Arnold said. “They turned people down because of the clothing they wore. One woman said she didn’t like the looks of an applicant’s face. All three Jewish families were turned down in 1977-79.”
“The club had early legal advise that it was private. Later, the club realized it had discriminated against Mr. Kates and others,” Arnold said. “There was a trend of difficulty for people of minority groups who applied for membership as they bought Port Royal homes.”
Mr. Kates maintained, “The Port Royal Club is not, never was, nor is intended to be a private club. It is a common facility for all property owners.” Mr. Kates said, “The suit was a lesson in geography. Port Royal Club membership could not be a requirement for Port Royal home ownership because the community is part of the city, not a private club in itself.”
The head of one Jewish family, denied membership still lives in Naples. He said, “I think this is a great victory” and “I’m glad Naples has come to the point where we may live without religious persecution.”