Report Finds Bias At Club

Report Finds Bias At Club

Women Harassed, Examiner Says

By Katherine Silaver: Washington Post, 10/15/99

Manor Country Club in Rockville has tolerated "severe and pervasive harassment of women" on its golf course and in its lounge for at least 20 years and done little to dissuade male members and employees who "intimidated, ridiculed and insulted" female members, guests and the wives of male members, according to a report by a Montgomery County hearing examiner.

The findings are contained in a 142-page report compiled by Philip J. Tierney, a lawyer and hearing examiner for the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, as part of a review of the club's policies promoted by a Silver Spring woman's 1993 complaint.

Tierney gave his report, in the form of a recommendation, to a panel of the Human Relations commission on Friday. The panel will decide whether the club, which has about 685 members, 18 of whom are women, violated county discrimination and harassment laws. Those familiar with the process say hearing examiners' recommendations are given "substantial weight" in the final decision.

In Montgomery County, complaints of harassment or discrimination must be filed with the county's Human Relations Commission before a suit can be filed. Either side may appeal the commission's ruling to a Montgomery Circuit Court judge.

The findings concerning Manor Country Club are the latest salvo in a lengthy battle over women's access to and treatment in Montgomery County golf and country clubs. Burning Tree Country Club in Bethesda relinquished its state "open space" tax break in 1989 to remain all-male after Maryland's highest court ruled that its membership policies discriminated against women.

In 1996, the president of Lakewood Country Club in Rockville apologized to the club's 750 members for a sexually explicit ice sculpture of a woman at a men's golf tournament.

At Manor, Tierney wrote, "some male members still perceive the Club Room [lounge] and the golf course as male preserves and harass women in a manner to discourage them from using the facilities."

He recommended that the club pay Betty Flaa $1,000 in damages for humiliation she suffered and $120,500 to cover her legal fees since filing her complaint. He also said the club should take steps to ensure that women are no longer subjected to hostile and offensive remarks.

The Maryland attorney general's office is still reviewing Flaa's complaint that Manor's membership benefits, particularly its preferential tee times, discriminate against women, said Larry Fletcher-Hill, the office's chief of litigation. The country club cannot receive its tax break for open space if it discriminates, Fletcher-Hill said.

Tierney also found that the club's application process for membership did not discriminate against women, as Flaa had argued.

"The club is a private country club," Wilson said. "Obviously, it doesn't want a hostile environment for men or women and will do everything reasonable to make sure it doesn't occur."

But Flaa's attorney, Linda Hitt Thatcher, said her client was upset over "denigrating" remarks, not money.

Flaa had filed a complaint against Manor after she said the club's assistant golf pro ordered her off the course one weekend morning because she was not a member, even though her husband was. Weekend tee times before 11 a.m. are reserved for members.

Flaa also complained that women were subjected to hostile remarks and an offensive painting of a nude woman displayed prominently in the lounge. She also argued that the preferential tee times for members were discriminatory because the club's membership was predominantly male, and that the female spouses were most affected by the limited tee times.

After a 10-day hearing during May and June, Tierney recommended that the painting be moved out of the lounge because, while he said it was not offensive per se, it "coveys to women a not-so-subtle message that the room remains a male preserve where women are not welcome."

Wilson said the 1954 painting by Washington Star cartoonist and club member Gib Crockett simply commemorated the clubhouse that was rebuilt after a fire.

"That picture is not vulgar," Wilson said. "It's not pornographic. It's the painting of a backside of a nude."

However, Tierney said he believed the testimony from several women who said they had been subjected to derogatory comments from men at the club, particularly in the Club Room lounge, which was all-male until 1990.

One female member said that when she and other women entered the lounge, a male member announced, "Lets get the [expletive] out of here....They can have the whole place to themselves."

Other women testified that men would say, "What are these women doing here?" when they played on the golf course, and that men stopped talking and glared at them when they entered the room.

Women also were told that they would be "uncomfortable" in a golf foursome and that weekend tournaments were geared towards men, including "stag" dinners, Tierney wrote.

He wrote that both were "part of an overall pattern that denigrates a woman's status on the golf course and conveys the clear message that she is not welcome."