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Community News: Mid-City

HANCOCK PARK : Club Is Accused of Race, Sex Bias

February 07, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

As Margaret Inyama walked past the Wilshire Country Club last week, she sighed and shook her head. "Walking away from someplace I worked for 15 years makes me very sad, but no one should be treated like I was."

The kitchen worker, who is 50, is suing the club, her supervisor and the club management, alleging racial and sexual harassment and discrimination, allegations club officials deny.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 22 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Inyama, a Baldwin Hills resident who was born in Ghana, claims her boss, Michael De Maria, regularly peppered her with racial insults and lewd sexual remarks since he was hired as the club's chef in 1989. The club ignored her complaints, she said.

"I was afraid to go to work but I needed the job," said Inyama, who put two daughters through private schools after her husband died in 1976.

Gerald W. Palmer, vice president of the club, said Inyama's "complaints are totally fictitious based on what I know." John Beck, the private club's general manager, has also said the allegations are false.

In seeking unspecified damages, Inyama claims that on Sept. 27, De Maria made several abusive remarks, followed her into a walk-in refrigerator and pushed her against the door, injuring her right shoulder and arm.

De Maria could not be reach for comment.

Inyama said that De Maria, in a statement written immediately after the incident, described her as a disgruntled employee with a negative attitude and claimed she bumped him as he tried to open the door.

But De Maria's predecessor, Al Warren, who was the club's chef for 19 years, described Inyama as a model employee who worked hard and never complained.

"To me, she was an excellent employee, very cooperative and an asset to the club," said Warren, who hired Inyama in 1978. He retired in 1989.

Since the alleged incident in September, Inyama has been on disability, although she worked one day in December for which she has not been paid, she said. On that day, the club also told her that her position had been changed to part time, a change that affects her disability payments, she said.

Inyama said she is the only woman and the only African-American among the nearly 20 kitchen employees, most of whom are Latino. Warren said that while he was chef, the kitchen staff worked well together.

In her suit, Inyama claims that from the time De Maria was hired he harassed her, used racial epithets and other offensive language, refused to let her take mandated breaks and would not recommend her for a raise.

Inyama, who injured her back on the job in 1980, was the only regular kitchen employee who did not get a raise in the last two years, she said. Inyama complained to the club's management about her treatment, but she said management did not want to make "a big deal of it."

The club, which has about 600 members, was incorporated in 1919 to promote outdoor sports, primarily golf, and other social activities for its members.

Sponsorship by a current member and a recommendation from the membership committee are required to become a member, according to the club's bylaws.

Minorities and women, including California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, belong to the club, Palmer said.

Reflecting on her allegations, Inyama said: "I swallowed my pride and kept working there, but I went home in tears every night. I brought my daughters up to judge people for what they are. When they ask me why this is happening I have no answer for them."

Michael Linfield, Inyama's attorney, said that unless the two sides reach a settlement, the case could take two years to resolve.

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