A Spokane County Superior Court judge wrote that the club has not abandoned its gender-discriminatory practices after four female members successfully sued the club in 2013, and is now putting the club under ongoing supervision.
A judge has taken a step in the case of the four women who challenged Spokane (Wash.) Country Club by putting the club under ongoing supervision, concluding that its management and leadership are refusing to abide by the law, the Spokane-based Spokesman-Review reported.
“Although major changes have been implemented post-verdict,” Spokane County Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins wrote in a July 23 order, “the club has not abandoned its discriminatory practices of excluding the plaintiffs (from) significant opportunities for regular and tournament play on the course as an element of their fully paid membership.”
In March 2013, the court ruled that the club must pay $500,000 after finding that the club had discriminated against four female members during a five-year legal battle. The women argued they were denied the full benefits of club membership as men received premium tee times and women had to play on Tuesdays or Thursdays. The jury’s decision was unanimous, Golf.com reported.
Despite the club complying with some of the women’s requested changes, Tompkins made it clear that the failures were not simply in the past, but that “past and present club leadership and management’s reliance on shifting and discriminatory criteria” forced her to put the club under court supervision, with the potential threat of contempt charges if they do not comply, the Spokesman-Review reported.
Mary Schultz, the attorney who represented the four member-owners who sued the club, said the order of injunctive relief was necessary because of the club’s “pervasive culture of gender distinction and discrimination.”
“The club merrily went on its way violating the law over the last year,” she said. “They would not adhere to the law before the verdict, and they would not adhere to the law after the verdict.”
Club attorneys did not return calls seeking comment this week, but have argued in the past that the case threatens the ability of private organizations to run themselves by their own standards, the Spokesman-Review reported.
A key finding in this case was that the club is a “public accommodation,” subject to anti-discrimination law. The four plaintiffs argued that as shareholding members of the club, they were receiving a second-class level of service. The suit also brought to light a lot of allegations of a deeply ingrained culture of discrimination, ranging from crude behavior directed at the women to a petition drive asserting that men were the real victims of discrimination sparked by Hieber’s decision to golf on a Wednesday even though it was men’s day, the Spokesman-Review reported.
In her order, Tompkins wrote that the different level of services included “gender-segregated tournaments, entertainment, targeted tee times, dining times and facilities, awards and benefits, prominence and location of handicap postings and member meetings.”
After the jury ruled in the women’s favor last year and awarded around a half-million in damages, the club engaged in what Schultz calls “shenanigans” to skirt the law and continue the tournaments. In one case, she said, a tournament was reclassified as open to all members—but previous players had dibs on a capped number of tournament spots, and the previous players were all men, the Spokesman-Review reported.
In another case, a member hosted a supposedly private tournament of his friends—all men—for which the club reimbursed him. This summer, according to Tompkins’ order, the club simply resumed holding gender-exclusive invitationals. Furthermore, some of the club’s members and board members have continued to act like foot-dragging boors, “engaging in vulgar and oppressive behavior” intended to humiliate the plaintiffs, the judge found.
The court’s oversight will be strict. The club will be required to post the notice of injunction on its website and send copies to members. It will be forced to create a new events schedule and to turn over board minutes. A hearing in November will be held to make sure it is complying, the Spokesman-Review reported.
Meanwhile, the club’s bankruptcy case moves onward, and the four plaintiffs continue to golf and go to the club. Schultz says the women love to golf, and they want to see their club get better, as they are shareholders in the club. She said they hope to see new management and a new direction. When the club’s bankruptcy reorganization plan is presented this fall to the court, Schultz said she plans to “ask the court to take a look at liquidation” to put the club under new management, the Spokesman-Review reported.
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