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Country club seeking bankruptcy protection

Sat., May 11, 2013

Discrimination case led to facility’s debt

The Spokane Country Club has filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying $1.7 million in legal costs tied to its loss in a gender discrimination lawsuit.

The private golf club, formed in 1898, is in no danger of closing its course in north Spokane, club attorney Barry Davidson said.

Bankruptcy affords the club time to appeal the $579,000 jury verdict awarded to four women in February after a month of trial and four years of litigation. The club has appealed the jury verdict that found the club discriminated against four female members by reserving the best tee times for men and barring women from areas of the restaurant. The club has about 350 members; less than 30 of them are women.

The club’s filing also delayed a court hearing scheduled for Friday in which a state judge was prepared to rule on attorney Mary Schultz’s $1.14 million request for legal fees against the golf club.

Schultz said her four clients, Drusilla Hieber, Laura Skaer, Nancy Van Noy and Tracy Christensen, never sought to bankrupt the club.

“The goal was to get the club to change,” Schultz said.

Instead, members dug in to protect a club code that the jury rejected. The club exhausted more than half of a $2 million insurance policy defending itself for four years. The insurance company then used much of the remaining coverage for a bond to cover the verdict.

That left members possibly on the hook for Schultz’s attorney fees and a list of relatively minor debts ranging from utility bills and food service to lawn chemicals and golf equipment.

A $1 million note held by U.S. Bank is backed by the club’s real estate holdings and is not listed as a debt in the bankruptcy paperwork filed Thursday.

Davidson, the club’s attorney, said the organization’s appeal of the verdict would test the ruling, which stripped the club’s privacy protections and subjected it to regulation as a public accommodation.

Club President Dan Loewen and General Manager Les Blakley said in a statement Friday that the club will continue to operate as normal, including hosting events and tournaments.

While the club pursues its appeal, Schultz said she’s moving ahead with her own appeal related to the case, which could expose the club’s trustees to personal lawsuits.

Schultz said the state judge overseeing the case dismissed the trustees from personal responsibility in the discrimination matter.

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