The Maryland attorney general has ruled that the Bethesda Country Club has discriminated against Jewish applicants for membership and that its procedures for admitting new members operate to discriminate against blacks.
The finding of "a pattern of discrimination" against the club is the first such ruling in the 15-month investigation of admission policies and practices of 19 Maryland country clubs by the office of the Attrorney General.
Unless the Montgomery County club agrees to change its admissions procedures and practices, it could lose its preferential state tax status that last year saved it about $40,000 in property taxes.
Club president Earl Tyner could not be reached for comment yesterday. A spokesman for the club at 7601 Bradley Blvd., Bethesda, said club officials had not received the ruling and thus would not received the ruling and thus would not comment on it. And two public hearings with the attorney general's office, club officials denied they had practiced discrimination against either blacks or Jews.
Tyner said during the hearings that no black had ever applied for membership in the club. According to the club's data, about 15 of its 812 members are Jewish.
The attorney general's statement released, yesterday dismissed the club's contention that this fact proved that the club's policies were not discriminatory.
"It is fatuous," the statement said, "to assume that a club located in the District of Columbia area that has District of Columbia area that has never had a black member in 48 years does not discriminated against black people when it has always insisted upon internal sponsorship of applicants and the admission of new members by secret voting only".
The ruling said that "the evidence of discrimination (against Jewish applicants) is more patent." Chief Assistant Attorney General Fred Oken, who wrote the decision, noted that the club's own records showed that seven of nine applicants who were rejected between 1972 and 1976 were Jewish. One of the two other applicants were rejected because of kind of membership sought was nonexisted: the other hand applied for the wrong kind of membership. Thus, Oken stated, these latter rejected applicants were disqualified rather than rejected outright.
The fact taht all of the seven who were rejected were Jews "cannot be explained by coincidence or by any credible reason unrelated to their being Jewish," the statement said.
For six of the seven applicants, club records gave no reason for their rejection. Club officials said that one Jewish applicant was rejected because of bad business dealings with a current member, but the applicant disputed that contention during one of the hearings held by the attorney general's office.
The attorney general's investigation thus far has cleared six clubs - Argyle, Greencastle, Kenwood, Gleen Dale, Bowie and Laurel - of discrimination. Decisions are pending on four other, including the Congressional County Club and the Chevy Chase Club. Hearings have not been scheduled for eight other clubs.
The Bethesda Country Club ruling was praised by Nathaniel Smith, head of the Maryland Chapter of the NAACP, who said he was "pleased that the attorney general's long investigation has finally netted something." Smith said a change in the country club's admission policies wouldn't have a great impact on the general black population but said "it's one of those thing we have to be vigilant about."
One official familiar with the general investigation said the Bethesda decision with respect to black membership was particularly significant because of the number of country clubs close to the District of Columbia, which has a 71 per cent black polulation.
"It's kind of hard to say that out of all those people you can't find a couple of blacks who want to be and can afford to be members," the observer said.
However Deputy Attorney General Jon. F. Oster said the decision was not "a message to the 13 other clubs still involved in the hearing process.
"Each club's situation stands on its own," Oster said. "It would be wrong to interpret this as a message to other clubs, because some are making goodfaith efforts to include blacks as members)."
Oster said that officials of the Bethesda club were "very fair with us and opened its (membership) records completely. That indicates perhaps a change of hear and their thinking about these things."