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Newport Beach Club Sued for Alleged Discrimination

April 08, 1989|ERIC LICHTBLAU | Times Staff Writer

Feminist attorney Gloria Allred on Friday brought her second lawsuit in as many months against an Orange County country club, charging that a Newport Beach club has systematically discriminated against their women members through its fees and policies.

Allred filed the suit in Santa Ana against the Newport Beach Country Club on behalf of 28 women plaintiffs, alleging that single women have had to pay as much as $8,500 more than single men if they wanted to become equity members of the club under a revised 1986 policy.

Officials with the 1,200-member club refused to comment on the lawsuit or on their fees and policies. "We haven't seen the lawsuit yet and have nothing to say about this," said clubhouse manager Jackie Morrissey.

Said plaintiff Lynne Bennett, 60, of Newport Beach: "We feel that the cost differences incurred in buying memberships were inequitable and unfair."

The legal actions come after a lawsuit brought by Allred on Feb. 16 in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of an Orange County woman who claimed the Yorba Linda Golf Club unfairly gave men players more and better teeing-off times.

Allred said in an interview that several recent court decisions and legislative measures have given her "many more legal weapons" to fight perceived discrimination at private clubs that once were well insulated from civil rights statutes.

For example, a 1988 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a New York case held that elite clubs can be forced to open their doors to women and racial minorities. The court rejected the notion that the Constitution gives these private clubs the right to exclude whomever they choose.

"It's nice to see the women's movement has reached the country clubs," said Allred, who was once dubbed "the feistiest feminist lawyer in the West" by a national magazine.

"I think there's a growing awareness among women in Orange County--especially in these clubs--that they have the right to be free of discrimination," she said.

Included as the core of Allred's lawsuit filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court is a 1986 letter from Newport Beach Country Club chairman W.D. Ray that begins: "Dear 'Single Lady' Member."

The letter informs the women members that the club is doing away with its "single lady" membership fee because it is a "sex-based discount" and tells them that they can instead pay to become Charter Members for an additional $3,000-initiation fee or Founding Members for an extra $12,000.

Allred maintained in her lawsuit that the new policy amounted to a sex gap in fees, since single men in the club had been allowed to become charter members for no extra charge and to become founding members for only an additional $3,500.

Charter and founding members, in effect, have stock in the club that can escalate in value, and they gain added privileges, according to Allred.

Club chairman Ray could not be reached for an explanation of the membership policy and did not return several telephone calls Friday.

Beyond the membership fee gap, Allred charged that the Newport Beach club discriminated against its female members by making single women pay for their male guests, while male members "frequently are not required to pay for female guests." She also alleged that men get free refreshments in their locker room, while women have to pay for theirs.

The lawsuit, requesting unspecified monetary damages, asks that the 28 women be compensated for the allegedly higher fees and seeks a court order forcing the club to change its membership policies.

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