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Another woman golfer sues for discrimination

A golfer who claims 17 years of sex discrimination by the Westchester Country Club -- and says things only got worse when she married another member -- took her battle to court today. This follows a similar incident last month.

"I don't consider myself a crusader," said Nancy Saunders, 50, of Greenwich, Conn. "I'm not a Susan B. Anthony. I just ran into something that I knew to be wrong."

The club, in Harrison, said it has always adhered to state law and does not discriminate against women.

Saunders, a real estate agent, testified before Administrative Judge Denise Washington of the state Division of Human Rights in Manhattan. She said that when she joined the club in 1982, as a single mother, she paid the same initiation and dues as any man her age, and "I just assumed I would be treated the same."

But she quickly learned that on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays there were long hours during which women were barred from the club's prestigious West Course, where the PGA Tour plays the Buick Classic each year.

In addition, she was barred -- all the time -- from the aptly named Men's Grill.

"She lost business opportunities as a result of her inability to entertain clients," her lawyer, Susan Slavin, said in her opening statement. In addition, she said, Saunders was unable to network with other members, except in the family dining room, where the atmosphere was one of "children and strollers."

When she married David Saunders, a fellow member, in 1985, she thought she would at least be able to golf with him during prime tee times on the West Course, because male members can bring a guest, she said. But the club said the guest cannot be a fellow member.

"David can play with any other woman on the planet Earth at the peak times," Slavin said. "He just cannot play with his wife."

Saunders has a 5-handicap, his wife an 11 and they have won several husband-wife club championships.

The club said the arrangement was legal then because the private club -- which now charges $45,000 for initiation fees and $5,500 a year for dues -- did not qualify as a "public accommodation" under state law until the law was amended in 1994. In anticipation of the amendment, the club changed its bylaws in 1992. Each family still had one principal member, but it could be either the husband or wife and could be changed from year to year.

"Mrs. Saunders is not the member because she and her husband have made the choice for the last six years that he is the member," club lawyer Joseph Saccomano said.

"Simply put, they don't want to pay for two memberships," Saccomano said outside court. "They want to play and have more rights than all of the other family memberships in the club but they don't want to pay for that."