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With the help of Women’s Law Project managing attorney Terry Fromson and Philadelphia-based Wolf Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen’s Abbe F. Fletman, three female members of the Coatesville Country Club have filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to gain equal access to the club’s golf course, governance and amenities. The complaint alleges that female golfers are denied early-morning tee times during exclusive male tournaments, that until 2001, only men and unmarried women could vote on matters affecting the club, and that until Joyce Pillets, Janet Stewart and Judy Uhrich protested, the club maintained a casual eatery closed to female members. Since filing the complaint, two of the women have received threatening phone calls, seemingly in response to a letter about the accusations issued by the club’s board of governors. Pillets was threatened with bodily harm, and Uhrich now fears her home will be set on fire. According to Women’s Law Project executive director Carol E. Tracy, the threats were phoned in to each woman on Thursday night after members were informed about the complaint the same day. “I think it’s shocking to all of us, particularly in the context of the kind of terrorism that we’ve experienced in the United States, to find people who will be this threatening,” Tracy said in a press conference Tuesday. “And one expects more — considerably more — from their colleagues when one brings forth a challenge of gender discrimination. You shouldn’t have to worry about threats of bodily harm or houses being firebombed.” In a follow-up interview with The Legal Intelligencer, John C. Romeo of Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel, who represents Coatesville, said the club has received no indication that the threats were made by club members. “To the extent that they were … the [country club and the board] will take appropriate action,” he said. “The country club does not condone any threats or any behavior like that. It discourages it. It advises its members to refrain from engaging in that kind of behavior.” Romeo said that contrary to the allegations leveled against it, Coatesville treats all members equally and is committed to providing equal opportunities for everyone. He said the club’s rules and policies provide equal opportunity to men and women. Coatesville Country Club, the attorney said, complies with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and will file its answer accordingly after receiving a copy of the complaint from the Human Relations Commission. The club’s actions fall under the state’s civil rights law because, according to the complaint, Coatesville is a public facility. “This is not a private club under the law,” Fletman said at the press conference. ” … Its doors are basically open to the public. Even if you’re a non-member you can come and play on the course, you can come take lessons there, you can come and make purchases there, and probably even more significant is the club not only accepts but it promotes itself as a place to have special events.” But it’s the rights and privileges that come with paying dues that have divided the club’s members. According to the complaint, Pillets and Stewart joined Coatesville under family memberships in 1991 and 1987, respectively. Married couples, the complaint alleges, are required to join as families, with husbands designated members. “Coatesville … does not consider the woman to be a member,” the complaint states. Pillets, Stewart and Uhrich allege that in 1998, Coatesville changed its family membership structure: Apparently, the original family golf membership was termed restricted membership, and a new, unrestricted category was created. Under restricted family memberships, women are excluded from the golf course until 10:30 a.m. Tee times for women are later if an exclusive male tournament is in progress. The complaint states that opening access to the golf course has fluctuated between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. over time. Unlike the restricted category, unrestricted family memberships include weekend morning hours for women, except during male tournaments. The tournaments, the women claim, gobble up approximately 30 percent of the weekend days during golf season. And according to Fromson, initiation fees tipped the scales at more than $15,000 for the unrestricted membership, compared with $9,000 for restricted family memberships and $5,000 for individual memberships. “The increase in charges combined with the lack of access is designed to and in fact discourages female golfers from purchasing or upgrading to unrestricted family golf memberships,” the complaint states. “In light of the increased costs associated with the unrestricted family golf membership and lack of additional access to the golf course obtained by purchasing it, four of the five women who upgraded to unrestricted family golf memberships in 1998 downgraded to restricted family golf memberships in 2001.” Uhrich was one of those women. She joined the club as an individual in 1982. When she remarried in 2001, the club changed her and her husband’s memberships from individual to family, she said in a statement read at the press conference. “Without consulting us, they gave my husband full privileges and restricted my access. I lost the vote I had as an individual member. I couldn’t vote even though, between my husband and myself, we owned more bonds than any other members at the club.” The complaint states that between 1998 and 2001, women who purchased unrestricted family memberships were allotted a vote. But in August 2001, that rule changed. “Coatesville revised its bylaws to reduce the vote to one vote per couple regardless of whether the family had a restricted or unrestricted membership,” the complaint states. Each family is to designate which member of the married couple would cast a vote. “Women should not have to take the vote away from their husbands to have a say in the club,” Stewart said in her statement. “It is no surprise that men retain the vote and the board remains a male-dominated entity.” The final allegations in the complaint allege that a men’s grille prohibiting women existed until Memorial Day 2002. “In order for a female golfer to eat a casual meal or get a cold drink, it was necessary that she change her golf shoes and use the formal dining facilities on the second floor,” Pillets said. “Even when I golfed with my husband, we couldn’t share a casual fare together in the men’s grille. However, a male guest of a male member was welcome in the grille.” “One of the interesting things about golf clubs and country clubs, and it’s part of the reason the Women’s Law Project … [has] taken on these cases, beyond the gender discrimination” Tracy said, “is many people who are in country clubs are also influential people in society. And the women who are experiencing the overt discrimination in these clubs are their wives and daughters. And we think if this is happening in this personal private setting, what is happening in the public lives they live in? It’s hard to believe that there is such a separation of attitude about women’s rights.” One threat was recorded on Uhrich’s answering machine. “Hi, Judy,” he said. “It’s a shame you didn’t — you weren’t — there to get this message in person. A concerned member of Coatesville, just got that letter from the board, I figured it was you or one of the three. I hope your fire alarms on your house are up-to-date. Make sure you have good batteries.”

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