Ex-Member Sues Phoenix Country Club Over Ejection

February 25, 2009

A former Phoenix Country Club member is suing the club, claiming he was expelled for speaking out about its gender-segregated dining facilities.

Real estate attorney Russell Brown said he lost his membership in the exclusive club last fall for comments he made to the New York Times concerning the club’s men-only grill.

“The law protects a person from retribution aimed at one’s efforts to promote equal rights,” Brown’s attorney, David Bodney, said. “Mr. Brown should not have been expelled or forced to forfeit his substantial investments as a result of his constructive efforts.”

Brown said the club sent him a letter stating his expulsion was due to “multiple violations of the Phoenix County Club etiquette policy.” He questioned why he was expelled while other members who also spoke to the media remained.

The club passed bylaws in 2007 saying members can be suspended or expelled for making “derogatory or otherwise injurious comments in the media.”

The Times story, published in June, quoted Brown as saying, “Most men are indifferent to the policy or are against it,” and, “But you become a leader of the club by being visible, and you become visible by being seen in the men’s grill, and the way the men’s grill is set up suits those men.”

Brown sent a letter to the club’s board proposing the gender restrictions be lifted several months before he was expelled. Brown said the board never responded.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office sued the club in September, alleging it violated the Arizona Civil Rights Act’s public accommodations provision prohibiting discrimination based on sex by refusing to serve women in its men’s grill. The club settled the case last month, agreeing to drop male-female segregation in its dining facilities.

The club’s attorney, Donald Johnsen, declined to comment.

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