An entrepreneur is challenging a London private member’s club over its “gentlemen-only” membership policy.
Emily Bendell, founder of lingerie brand Bluebella, claims the Garrick Club’s rules allowing women to attend only as guests of men violates the Equality Act 2010.
The exclusive West End club counts Sir Laurence Olivier and Charles Dickens among its former members.
Ms Bendell was denied membership in March.
She is now threatening legal action against the Garrick, demanding that it opens membership to women for the first time since it opened in 1831.
Talking to the BBC she said: “I had no idea that this male-only members club still existed and I was quite shocked and surprised that was the case.
“[It’s] deeply troubling on a number of levels and so I thought I could see if there was anything there could be done about it.
“These are clubs that have people who run this country as members – what is that telling us? That we are not allowing women to be part of these networks and gatherings?
“By denying women access to these networks, it is detrimental to our cause, so I think it is important.
“I hope that the members of the Garrick Club can see that the world has moved on and do the right thing.”
The Garrick Club was founded by a group of “literary gentlemen” with the aim of bringing together actors and supporters of theatre.
Although the Garrick does not allow female members it employs female members of staff and a letter has been sent to Ann Robbie, the secretary of the Garrick, with a request for a reply by 5 October.
The letter states the Garrick is bound, under section 29 of the Equality Act 2020, not to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services.
The letter goes on to outline claims for direct and indirect sex discrimination in respect of its “gentlemen-only” policy.
Ms Bendell’s solicitors at Leigh Day said: “Ms Bendell has a successful career and affinity to the arts and, just as any man in her position would have the opportunity to, she wishes to become a member of the Garrick Club and access the club’s services.
“The Garrick is one of the oldest and best-known members’ clubs in the world, but it is holding on to values that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age. It provides services to the public and as such it is bound by the equalities law.
“Both the firm and Ms Bendell look forward to receiving confirmation that the Garrick Club intends to change its policy in relation to admission of female members.”
The Garrick has been contacted for comment.