On appeal from Director of the Division on Civil Rights, Department of Law and Public Safety.
Matthews, Kole and Milmed.
[164 NJSuper Page 78] Defendant Basking Ridge Fire Company, No. 1 (Company),*fn1 appeals from a determination and order of the Director of the Division on Civil Rights finding it in
violation of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. ("the law").
The determination and order resulted from the company's denial of an application for membership to complainant Caroline Hebard (Hebard) on the ground that membership was limited exclusively to males. Hebard made repeated attempts to obtain an application between September 1973 and the time that she filed her complaint on April 25, 1974 with the Division on Civil Rights.
The company, a volunteer fire department, is incorporated as a nonprofit entity. As such it is responsible for its operations and has the right to buy and sell real estate and other property. The firehouse, the land upon which it is located and the other property maintained by the company are all owned by it. Upon dissolution of the company the profits from the sale of the assets would be distributed among the members. It is funded principally through periodic appropriations from the municipality and from the proceeds of fund-raising activities.
The company holds, by way of social activities, a few picnics each year and an annual dinner dance, but it is not a social club. Members of the public do not have access to the company premises, but from time to time the building is made available for use to nonmembers free of rent.
Township ordinances established the company, along with the Liberty Corners Squad, as the municipal fire department. The township ordinances provide for, among other things, annual appropriations to the company, workers' compensation for the members, inspection by the township committee of the company, its property and personnel, approval by the township committee of new members, notification to the township committee of the names of the company's members and officers, and rules under which the company, its officers and members must operate.
Membership in the company is limited exclusively to males. An applicant seeking membership must be nominated
by three members in order to be considered therefor. After passing the initial investigatory stage during which the applicant submits a biographical form and a physical test record attesting to general good health, the applicant is admitted as a probationary member for a one-year period. During this time the applicant performs duties commensurate with the extent of his training and level of proficiency, and is simultaneously evaluated in terms of physical and mental ability to perform as a fire fighter. At the end of the year, the applicant is considered for full membership in the company.
At the hearing, among other things, considerable proof was adduced relating to the ability of women to perform as fire fighters. Based on the evidence before him the hearing examiner essentially found:
(1) The company is subject to the Law both as a public accommodation within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(1) and as an employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(e).
(2) The complaint was not barred by the statute of limitations set forth in N.J.S.A. 10:5-18.
(3) Hebard was illegally discriminated against by the company because of her sex when, on or about September 22, 1973 and continuing to at least March 27, 1974, she was denied an equal opportunity to obtain membership in the company in spite of her qualifications in violation of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a) and 10:5-12(f).
(4) Sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification for membership in the company, as that exception is defined in N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a).
(5) The company is not in its nature reasonably restricted exclusively to individuals of one sex, within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(f).
(6) The company should be ordered to offer probationary membership in the company to Hebard. Because of the strong feeling ...