Golf Club Members Claim Retaliation For Beefs About Women's Treatment

, New Jersey Law Journal

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Liza Garrubbo
Liza Garrubbo

A husband and wife are suing a prestigious New Jersey golf club for its alleged reprisals against them for seeking greater privileges for women members.

Liza Garrubbo claims the Plainfield Country Club suspended her membership for a year after she proposed a dues-structure change to give women more access to tee times.

And her husband, Joseph Garrubbo, a club member for more than 30 years, alleges he was removed from the board of trustees for supporting her actions.

Their suit, filed Thursday in Middlesex County Superior Court, asks for compensatory and punitive damages and seeks to bar the club from further discriminatory acts.

The suit says the 123-year-old club, which was host to the Barclays PGA tournament in 2011 and set to host again in 2015 and 2019, has a membership structure that denies women full benefits and privileges.

Active members, 95 percent of whom are men, have full club privileges, meaning they are entitled to vote on club business, have access to the most desired tee times and are permitted in a social area known as the Men's Grill, which serves drinks and light meals.

Associate members, 95 percent of them women, are spouses of active members but not accorded those privileges, the plaintiffs allege. While full members can bring guests to the Men's Grill, they allegedly cannot bring their spouses.

According to the suit, Liza Garrubbo—three times the club's women's golf champion and a finalist in eight other years—proposed the dues-structure change while a member of the golf committee from 2010 to 2012. She was not reappointed once her term was up, allegedly contrary to club tradition and in retaliation for seeking the change.

Around this time, Joseph Garrubbo, chairman of the Policy and Human Resources Committee, appointed Liza and another woman to that committee.

In response, club president Paul Sauchelli allegedly orchestrated his removal from that committee and from the board of trustees, the suit says.

On Feb. 22, Liza Garrubbo sent emails to trustees to complain that women had unequal access to golf privileges. On April 11, she brought up the issue at a meeting of women golfers at the club. Sauchelli took to the podium after she spoke, saying she should not have been heard because she was not on the meeting agenda.

On June 2, the club's trustees notified Liza Garrubbo her conduct had been "deemed by the Board to be detrimental to the welfare of the Club," the suit says.

The club said she was subject to reprimand, suspension or expulsion for engaging in behavior not in keeping with a member in good standing, pursuing a personal agenda to disparage the club, harassing club members and talking to others about Sauchelli's voice mail, which was intended to be "private."

Garrubbo retained a law firm to represent her at a June 14 hearing. But the lawyer withdrew from representation, citing a call from an unnamed member of the board to an attorney in the firm's New York office who also is a member, according to the complaint—which does not identify the lawyer or firm.

On June 17, trustee Christopher Fraser told Liza Garrubbo her suspension could be reduced to a reprimand if she agreed not to discuss the club's treatment of women again and to release it from liability, she claims.

She did not accept the offer, and the club suspended her membership on June 18 for one year and barred her from the premises until she apologized for her actions, she alleges.

One of the plaintiff lawyers, Anne McHugh of Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman in Princeton, says she is confident the club is a public accommodation under the Law Against Discrimination. But the assertion of unlawful retaliation under the LAD is not dependent on public-accommodation status, she says.

Co-counsel Andrew Watson says people like the Garrubbos "should be encouraged to speak out and not be stifled and punished as they have been."

Club president Sauchelli declined to discuss the specifics of the complaint but said, "We reject the unfounded allegations made by Mr. and Mrs. Garrubbo and we look forward to vigorously defending our reputation against these baseless claims."

Greg Colombo, general manager of the club, did not respond to telephone or email messages. •

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