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Jury finds against golf club in bias case

Female members claimed policies are discriminatory

The Spokane Country Club must pay more than $500,000 for discriminating against female members.

A Spokane County Superior Court jury Thursday ruled in favor of four women who argued they were denied the full benefits of club membership simply because of their gender. The unanimous verdict caps a five-year legal battle that exposed multiple examples of the club’s practice of allowing its male members the premium tee-times for golfing and bars women from certain areas of the restaurants.

The case was argued before Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins over the past two weeks.

Drusilla Hieber, Laura Skaer, Nancy Van Noy and Tracy Christensen filed suit against the club, asking for $4.5 million collectively. The jury awarded Skaer $34,721, Hieber $185,464, Van Noy $184,299 and Christensen $174,061 on Thursday, including $150,000 in noneconomic damages for all except Skaer.

Attorney Mary Schultz, who represented the four women, said in closing arguments Wednesday that the club’s board of directors has been continuing a 115-year tradition of giving men premium tee-times on Wednesdays and Saturdays while women must play on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

“The world has moved on,” Schultz argued to the jury. “Washington has moved on. Discrimination is not controlled by the majority or who plays more rounds. It’s against the law to establish gender-based practices.”

Attorneys Matt Anderson and Kevin Breck, representing the club, said the club had been making changes, such as removing the name “Men’s Grill” from a portion of the restaurant and other changes requested by Schultz and the plaintiffs.

“What brought you to this courtroom was a dispute over tee times that started in 2008,” Anderson said in his closing argument. “This is just a disagreement. The four plaintiffs believe there should be no gender-based events, period. The other members disagree.”

He said most of the club’s 630 golf players are men, and Van Noy golfed 77 rounds in 2011 and 2012.

“Does that look like someone who has been denied the full opportunity to enjoy her course?” Anderson asked.

“To come to court and say they don’t let me play on Wednesdays is disingenuous and unfair.”

He went on to say there are tournaments in which only men play and some in which only women play, and two of the plaintiffs “not only had an opportunity to play in them, they designed” the tournaments.

The jury was unanimous in the decision that all women were discriminated against by the club, but one member of the jury did not agree on the noneconomic damages.

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