July 18, 2009 in City

Country club bias alleged

Lawsuit claims female members face discrimination at Spokane golf course
Meghann M. Cuniff meghannc@spokesman.com, (509) 459-5534
 

On the Web: Read the lawsuit at spokesman.com/ documents.

When a Spokane businesswoman joined the Spokane Country Club nine years ago, she drew curious looks when she played in a members-only tournament dominated by men.

The next year, she claims, the pricey private club changed the tournament to a men-only event, previewing years of alleged gender discrimination that Laura Skaer’s lawyer outlined in a lawsuit filed this week in Spokane County Superior Court.

“(The plaintiffs) want their own children and grandchildren to grow up understanding that it’s illegal to give someone less value for the same fee just because that person is a woman,” said Spokane lawyer Mary Schultz, who represents plaintiffs Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association; property manager Dru Hieber; and Nancy Van Noy, who is retired.

“It’s a lesson the Spokane Country Club board of trustees apparently still needs to learn,” Schultz said.

A mediator tried working through the dispute last year, but talks failed.

Schultz said her plaintiffs were moved to file a lawsuit when about 90 male club members signed a petition complaining they were the ones being discriminated against, an allegation Schultz called “ludicrous.”

A club official denied the discrimination and said women organize more events at the club than men.

“We expect to be vindicated in court,” said John Stone, the club’s general manager. “Our practices aren’t any different than courses in town or throughout the nation.”

The lawsuit filed against the country club, its executives and board of trustees details what Schultz described as an “archaic” pattern of discrimination at the club that began before the plaintiffs joined and ultimately gives men exclusive access, even though women pay the same membership fee.

Filed Thursday, the 18-page complaint describes a culture of discrimination that allows men-only activities to dominate while sometimes excluding female members from being on the property, which is in north Spokane near the Little Spokane River.

Women’s events are open to nonmembers, the lawsuit alleges, while men’s events are exclusive and female members are barred from attending.

The club, which hosted its first women’s open golf tournament in 1946, doesn’t disclose membership rates, Stone said, but Schultz said all members pay thousands of dollars to join and a monthly fee of a few hundred dollars.

Women aren’t told of the scheduling differences when they join, according to the lawsuit.

Other allegations in the lawsuit include giving men more convenient tee times, such as on weekends, while women pay a separate fee to join a ladies association that sponsors women-only events.

“Female members do not qualify for any Association activities absent paying dues to and playing with (on Tuesday mornings) Ladies’ Association members,” the lawsuit alleges.

An annual member of the year award is called the “man of the year” award, and the club’s grill and other areas are open only to men.

Women are subject to “ridicule, degradation and being asked to leave,” according to the lawsuit.


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