15 Women Hit P.G. Club With Bias Complaint

By Jon Jeter
Washington Post, 6/18/94

Fifteen Prince George's County women have filed a discrimination complaint against their Mitchellville country club, contending that they are denied prime tee times, club voting rights and other privileges available to male members.

The complaint, filed Tuesday with the Maryland attorney general's office, alleges that the Country Club at Woodmore as a rule grants female members only "associate member" status, while men enjoy full membership with far greater privileges.

Country clubs across the nation have wrestled in recent years with complaints from female members, who say they are not offered the same access to club facilities as their husbands and sons.

Ronald Wilson, Woodmore board president, has denied that the club's policies are discriminatory. But Linda Hitt Thatcher, the attorney for the female members who filed the complaint, called the club's practices backward.

About half the club's 508 members are women, but only seven are full members, Hitt Thatcher said. Full members have unrestricted use of the 18-hole golf course, but associate members may not tee off until 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 12:20 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Club bylaws prohibit club associate members from voting for the board of directors or serving as board members. Also, associate members have restricted access to the club's lounge, the 19th hole, formerly known as the Men's Grille.

As the number of women playing golf has grown, so too have complaints that the best tee times-the power hours during which business executives peddle influence and cut deals-are reserved for men, said Meg Mullery, a board member of Businesswomen's Golf Link.

"The more that women become involved with the sport, the more they want to use the courses, and the more they're finding that the courses are not available to them," said Mullery, whose Washington-based organization was created to introduce more women to the sport and the business opportunities it provides.

Mullery said that cases such as the one in Prince George's have surfaced in nearly a dozen states and Canada. "It was inevitable," she said.

The Mitchellville club, on 350 acres on Enterprise Road, is more than 30 years old and has six tennis courts, a swimming pool and the golf course.

Although privately owned, the club is one of 28 facilities in Maryland that receive a tax break from the state, Hitt Thatcher said.

Because country clubs provide recreation and contribute to economic development, the state allows them to pay reduced property taxes, Hitt Thatcher said.

In exchange, Hitt Thatcher said, state law forbids such organizations from discriminating against minorities, women and disabled people.

The law forms the basis of the complaint, Hitt Thatcher said.

The club requires associate members who become full members to pay $85 more a month than other full members. Hitt Thatcher said that of the seven women that are full members at the club, four inherited full membership from husbands who died, and three are paying the additional monthly costs.

Phyllis Nicholson, a golfer who has been a member of the club for five years, said that she decided to pursue legal action after she and a group of other women approached the board of directors about the restricted tee time. "They just ignored us," said Nicholson, co-owner of a contracting firm with her husband. "They tell us that we have to pay $85 more a month to get the same thing the men get. It's so frustrating."

"The men just don't seem to get it that this is discrimination."