The New York City Human Rights Commission is launching a “commission-initiated investigation” into a flourishing women’s social club and co-working space, according to a new report from Jezebel.
Inspired by early-20th-century women’s clubs, Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan co-founded The Wing in late 2016 to function both as a workspace as well as a “a hub for community and connection between women.” While there was originally only one location in New York City’s Flatiron District, the business announced in April 2017 that it was expanding to Soho, Downtown Brooklyn, and D.C. Since its inception, The Wing has raised $40 million in venture capital, launched a magazine (some of which the Cut published through a partnership), and beckoned over 1,500 people willing to pay the $215 monthly membership fee.
After learning of the business through its media coverage, the NYC Human Rights Commission decided to launch an investigation to determine if the business’s operations violate the city’s Human Rights Law. According to the aforementioned law, “businesses that furnish public accommodations, including most private clubs (though not all),” cannot discriminate against customers based on their gender, Jezebel reports. The Wing not only prohibits men not only from becoming members, but from even visiting the building.
According to the report, representatives from The Wing and the Commission have scheduled to meet and discuss the case.
“All that’s happened is that The Wing and the Commission have agreed, mutually, to sit down and have a conversation,” said Karen Dunn, who is representing The Wing. Dunn is a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, the eponymous firm of David Boies, the lawyer who most recently represented Harvey Weinstein and attempted to discredit author Emma Cline by bringing up her sexual past in a legal battle. However, it should be noted that Boies Schiller Flexner LLP is a major law firm that has represented a number of high-profile clients.
The Jezebel report also includes multiple testimonies from members who extoll the benefits of working in a women-only space, as well as compelling arguments for the existence of such a place from law professor Melissa Murray.
“I think it’s patently absurd for New York’s human rights commission to be focusing on The Wing when we’ve had, over the last six months, numerous complaints about workplaces being absolutely hostile to women in terms of pervasive and endemic sexual harassment,” she said. “Leaving aside the fact that so many workplaces seem to be rife with incidents of sexual harassment, now, after #MeToo, I think there are a lot of men in positions of authority who are going to be really skeptical and afraid to mentor women and that might make a space like this even more necessary.”
While experts go back and forth about whether or not The Wing is violating the city’s human-rights law regarding gender discrimination, reporter J.K. Trotter stresses that the future of the investigation is uncertain.
To be clear: It’s uncertain whether the Commission on Human Rights would ever bring a lawsuit against The Wing. At this stage, the agency is evaluating the company’s practices to ensure that it’s following the law. The Commission is empowered to sue individuals and companies in the absence of a third-party complaint, but that decision will hinge on the outcome of its own inquiry, which hasn’t yet finished. And there are several steps between the inquiry’s completion, including the agency’s final determination and a mediation process, and a potential lawsuit.
Update 8:40am: In response to the story, Audrey Gelman, CEO of The Wing, issued the following statement to The Cut:
Quite surprisingly, the Commission reached out to us on the first day of Women’s History Month. That call has resulted in nothing more than an agreement to meet and have a conversation — in fact, we have been assured that the de Blasio Administration fully supports the mission of The Wing and will work with us to see it prosper. Because of the history of women in this country — and even more so in this time we live in — it is important to protect and foster the work of The Wing and similar space that give women a positive and safe space to thrive.
A City Hall press secretary also told The Cut that these types of reviews are “very normal” and that “the Mayor is fully supportive of The Wing’s mission.”