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image captionEmily Bendell asked for membership in March and was turned down, so engaged lawyers to mount a legal challenge under the 2010 Equality Act

An entrepreneur is challenging a London private member’s club over its “gentlemen-only” membership policy.

Emily Bendell, founder of lingerie brand Bluebella, claims the Garrick Club’s rules allowing women to attend only as guests of men violates the Equality Act 2010.

The exclusive West End club counts Sir Laurence Olivier and Charles Dickens among its former members.

Ms Bendell was denied membership in March.

She is now threatening legal action against the Garrick, demanding that it opens membership to women for the first time since it opened in 1831.

The Garrick Club was founded by a group of “literary gentlemen” with the aim of bringing together actors and supporters of theatre.

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image captionThe Garrick Club which counts Sir Laurence Olivier and Charles Dickens among its former members has continued to be “open to gentlemen members only” throughout its 189-year history

Although the Garrick does not allow female members it employs female members of staff and a letter has been sent to Ann Robbie, the secretary of the Garrick, with a request for a reply by 5 October.

The letter states the Garrick is bound, under section 29 of the Equality Act 2020, not to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services.

The letter goes on to outline claims for direct and indirect sex discrimination in respect of its “gentlemen-only” policy.

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image captionThe club, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest in the world, was originally formed as a meeting place for men working in drama

Ms Bendell’s solicitors at Leigh Day said: “Ms Bendell has a successful career and affinity to the arts and, just as any man in her position would have the opportunity to, she wishes to become a member of the Garrick Club and access the club’s services.

“The Garrick is one of the oldest and best-known members’ clubs in the world, but it is holding on to values that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age. It provides services to the public and as such it is bound by the equalities law.

“Both the firm and Ms Bendell look forward to receiving confirmation that the Garrick Club intends to change its policy in relation to admission of female members.”

The Garrick has been contacted for comment.

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