Press Release

Court Finds Public Golf Course Liable for Discrimination Based on Gender

April 2, 2010


On April 1, 2010, the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts held the Town of Dennis, and the Dennis Pines and Dennis Highlands Golf Courses, liable for discriminating against Elaine Joyce.

The town prohibited Ms. Joyce (who is a single digit handicap golfer) from playing with her father in a “men’s member-member” tournament; both Ms. Joyce and her father are members. The only reason given for Ms. Joyce’s exclusion was that she is a woman. The Court held that the Town violated Ms. Joyce’s civil rights (the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution ) and her rights under the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Statute (“All persons shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodations”). Simply put, town-owned golf courses are public accommodations (and private golf clubs can also unintentionally slip into that category), and making a distinction on account of sex in excluding Ms. Joyce from full participation in tournament play is unlawful. Having been held liable, the town will now be paying Ms. Joyce’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and the case will be scheduled for a jury trial on her damages.

Laura R. Studen, co-chair of Burns & Levinson’s Litigation Department stated: “Opening the doors to full participation in any arena is especially gratifying, and Ms. Joyce has helped open participation for many women who have faced gender discrimination on the golf course but remained silent fearing the shunning and other negative social pressures that often make real change slow in the coming.”

For more information, see the judgment decision.

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