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Female golfer sues country club over gender-based rules

September 25, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The ``petty humiliations″ piled up for Wynn Harris as she tried to play golf at the country club she and her husband joined in Blue Bell five years ago.

She wasn’t allowed to play at prime times on holidays and weekends, she said, nor was she allowed to eat in the only dining room that serves food in the morning.

During a mixed tournament, she said, her male partners tried to get her into the restaurant and were told, ``Women can eat in the Men’s Grille after I’m dead.″

On Thursday, Mrs. Harris, 48, and her husband, Robert, filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court alleging that the Meadowlands Country Club discriminates against women by denying them the full benefits and privileges of membership, including the right to vote and run for office.

``I know it would be easy to dismiss this case as insignificant; after all, it’s only about playing golf,″ Mrs. Harris said in a statement. ``But country clubs represent the last bastion where men openly treat women in such unacceptable ways.″

During times set aside for women, she was given a number instead of a starting time and ``bumped″ from the course if men arrived later and wanted to play, she said.

``Scarcely a week went by that I did not get a message that this was a men’s club and that I was not and never could be a real member of the club,″ said Mrs. Harris, who filed a complaint last year with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The Blue Bell couple say they had been assured before joining that the club treated men and women equally.

Before taking legal action, the Harrises went to the club leadership and asked for changes in the policy, their lawyers said. The club made ``nominal″ changes but continued to deny women equal privileges and access, the lawyers said.

The Women’s Law Project is helping to represent the couple.

A country club employee referred questions about the case to a lawyer, Walter Flamm, who did not immediately return calls for comment.

Sandra Bacote, regional director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said the Harrises and the commission had rejected a settlement the club offered because it did not fully remedy the discrimination.

Now that the Harrises have gone to court the commission stops its action against the club.

``We would have required that men and women would have had equal status as members,″ she said.

The Harrises said they were shunned and harassed by club members and called before the rules committee for speaking out against the Meadowlands. Mrs. Harris, who has a 10 handicap, said people have shouted obscenities at her, and that she and her husband were booed when they won a tournament.

They resigned in 1995 after the rules committee suspended them.

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