Last week, Jezebel reported that the New York City Human Rights Commission was launching an investigation into The Wing to determine whether the women-only social club and co-working space was in violation of the city’s Human Rights Law. Three days after Jezebel’s report, 11 NYC professors of law, philosophy, and gender studies voiced their support for the Commission’s investigation by signing a petition. They argue that failing to hold The Wing to the same anti-discrimination standard as other businesses could potentially set a dangerous precedent.
“Sure, some might like all women spaces, but this can’t be its business model, just as we would condemn all-male businesses, all-white businesses, all-Christian businesses, etc.,” the petition reads. “Opening the door here to the non-application of the law will surely be used by other groups/interests who disagree with the application of a generally applicable rule in another context.”
The authors went on to express concern that The Wing was using many of the same legal arguments that were employed by private, segregationist clubs during the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. “These entities argued that by virtue of their ‘privateness’ the law could not, and should not reach them — and they lost those arguments each time they were raised. It is alarming to hear the same kind of argument being made today by The Wing and its defenders in the name of protecting women.” The petition concluded:
We appreciate the need for groups that experience discrimination to find ways to combat the effects of that discrimination and to provide mutual support to one another. But setting up a business that clearly violates fundamental equality principles is more likely to reinforce societal inequality than provide protection against it.
The signatories are academics from Columbia, NYU, CUNY, and other New York institutions of higher education; they include Patricia J. Williams, a professor at Columbia Law School, and the author of the column “Diary of a Mad Law Professor” for the Nation magazine.
It remains unclear how far the Commission intends to go in its investigation, or whether it plans to bring a lawsuit against The Wing. In a statement last week, the company’s co-founder, Audrey Gelman, wrote that the call from the Commission “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.” And City Hall told the Cut that the investigation is “very normal” and “the Mayor is fully supportive of The Wing’s mission.”
Since its founding in late 2016, The Wing has attracted over 1,500 members, and has expanded from a single location in New York City’s Flatiron District to locations in Soho, Downtown Brooklyn, and D.C. On Tuesday, the company announced in an email that it will also be opening six new branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Williamsburg, London, Seattle, and Toronto.