RAC women seek payout

THE RAC Club, which is selling its breakdown services to an American company for pounds 450m, has been accused of sex discrimination for refusing to pay women members a pounds 35,000 windfall that will go to their male counterparts.

"Lady executive members" at the 12,000-strong club are considering taking legal action after being told they are not entitled to a payout that will be given to "full members" under the RAC's sale of its motoring services division to Cendant.

Stephen Alexander, a senior partner at Class Law, the solicitors' firm representing the women, said yesterday: "This may be in breach of European human rights. It is contrary to natural justice to discriminate against people merely because they are women. As far as I am aware this is the largest case of financial loss ever suffered by anyone purely on the grounds of sex."

Gill Carrick, who joined the 100-year-old gentlemen's club 14 years ago, is one of 11 "lady executives" who always considered themselves to be full members. Ms Carrick, of the head-hunting company Goddard Kay Rogers, joined as a corporate member when it was trying to raise money for its Pall Mall headquarters. After the club stopped accepting corporate members, Ms Carrick understood that she - like her male colleagues - had become a full member. She said yesterday: "I have always regarded myself as a full member and I have duly paid my subscription. I feel they have misled me."

Catherine Needham, vice- president of investor relations at the investment bank Salomon Smith Barney, is in the same position. She said: "I have been a member since 1981. It never occurred to me that I was not a full member. I have been paying the same rate as the men."

Edmund King, of the RAC, said yesterday that the women were not entitled to any money because they were not full members. He said that it was nothing to do with their sex.

He added: "The legal case is quite clear. Ms Carrick doesn't have a leg to stand on. She was never a full member."

Overseas members of the club who have been excluded from the payout and widows of full members have also protested against the decision. The High Court has ruled that only full members of the RAC Club are eligible for the pounds 35,000.