It’s always good to pay attention to the value of “addition by subtraction” and know how to take the right steps to properly dismiss those from the membership ranks who have proved to not be a good fit with a club’s culture.
Member retention and recruitment has received a lot of renewed attention from clubs in the years since we’ve emerged from the recession, and with good reason—the pain from that experience reinforced the need to always do as much as possible to keep existing members happy while also stepping up efforts to attract new ones.
Sometimes, though, it’s also good to pay attention to the value of “addition by subtraction,” and to know how to take the right steps to properly dismiss those from the membership ranks who have proved to not be a good fit with a club’s culture. Doing this when needed, and doing it right, will not only go a long way to maintaining peace and harmony and overall member satisfaction, it can also help to assure those who do not yet belong to the club but are considering joining it that you can provide the right atmosphere for them and their families.
A recent article in The National Law Review (with the surprisingly flippant headline of “We’ll Just Kick Him Out!”) detailed two cases involving private clubs in North Carolina where the clubs’ expulsions of members were upheld by the state’s Court of Appeals. The main takeaways from both cases, attorney Ryal Tayloe wrote, were these findings:
• Clubs are given great deference by the legal system to manage their own affairs and to handle the disciplining of their membership.
• Courts will not be inclined to substitute their judgment for the judgment of the club as to whether a member’s conduct should have resulted in discipline, including, but not limited to, suspension and expulsion.
• A club member does not have an absolute right to notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to being disciplined. If the club’s governing documents require notice and an opportunity to be heard, those governing documents must be followed. The better approach would be to give notice and an opportunity to be heard whether the governing documents require it or not, which would likely put the club in the best light with the court should the dispute be taken to that level.
• A member of a private or social club does not have a right to a hearing before an impartial tribunal unless the club’s governing documents require it.
The message for members of private clubs facing discipline, Tayloe concluded from his analysis of the two cases, should be to realize that the deck is stacked against them, to the point where seeking forgiveness rather than fighting an uphill battle through the courts may be their best course of action.
At the same time, Tayloe noted, club Boards and managers, when meting out discipline, should be very careful to follow their governing documents closely and to seek legal advice early in the process. “Getting a cool, independent head involved in the process may be the ounce of prevention that saves a pound of cure,” Tayloe wrote.
But Tayloe’s analysis of the cases seemed to make it clear that if you’ve been hesitating to deal with any threats that may be lurking within your club to membership satisfaction and growth, the law will be on your side, as long as you take the proper steps when setting out to eliminate them.
Joe Barks, Editor