Men Only

The local Women's Commission backs a complaint against the Tucson Country Club

When women go to the Tucson Country Club, they can enter every building at the members-only golf club—except for the one everyone calls the men's grill.

Some say that's gender-based discrimination.

In early March, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne dropped a 2-year-old gender-discrimination complaint against the club.

But in a March 14 letter, Loretta and John Hunnicutt wrote a request for reconsideration, outlining what they consider to be new evidence that shows the private facility, with more than 400 members, serves enough nonmembers to disqualify it from private-club protections.

"They've admitted to discrimination. ... What we need the AG to do is look at all the evidence and see that (the Country Club) is a public accommodation," Loretta Hunnicutt says.

In 2009, the Hunnicutts and other club members filed complaints with the AG's Civil Rights Division, accusing the club of discrimination by operating the men's-only grill. There are other dining and drinking spots at the club, and the men's grill is the only one that prevents women from entering.

Although no one else has yet joined the Hunnicutts' request for reconsideration, the couple isn't alone. Four days after the request was filed, the Pima County/Tucson Women's Commission wrote a letter to Horne supporting the request, asking him to begin a new investigation.

"Of course, we don't understand why they'd want to have a men's bar and grill, anyway, and not include women. This is the 21st century, after all," says Alison Hughes, the Women's Commission chair.

Hughes says the point of writing to Horne is to show that the Hunnicutts' case is of interest to "a broader number of women than just those who have filed the complaints in the past."

She adds, "We want to know that he is committed to the justice and the rights of women."

What is also troubling to Hughes and other commission members is that many club members should know better—including those in the legal profession.

In Hughes' letter to Horne, she wrote: "We reviewed the club membership list and were surprised to find that some of the club's active members are in the legal profession reaching from the judiciary to numerous law offices—this finding is particularly important, because women are often dependent on lawyers and judges to defend them in cases of discrimination, it seems particularly unfair if that woman's case appears before a judge who himself or herself is an active member of a club that admits to discriminating against women."

Club members reportedly include former Arizona governor candidate John Munger, former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, Pima County Family Law Court Judge Carmine Cornelio, former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Thomas Zlaket, former Pima County Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Escher and Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning.

Canon 3 of the 2009 Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct ( states: "A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation."

The code also states: "A judge's public manifestation of approval of invidious discrimination on any basis gives rise to the appearance of impropriety and diminishes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. A judge's membership in an organization that practices invidious discrimination creates the perception that the judge's impartiality is impaired."

Judge Carmine Cornelio says he joined the club when there were six or seven active judges who also had memberships, and that he was supportive of making changes when the Hunnicutts and other members began to ask if the men's grill and other discriminatory practices—such as not allowing women to continue their family's membership if their husband passes away, and women having different tee times as men—could be changed.

A women's committee was put together and approached the board to ask for those changes, but because the Hunnicutts and others filed their complaints with the AG's office, Cornelio says, the board decided to wait for the AG decision.

"I couldn't believe that they couldn't see an appropriate way to deal with it. Most private clubs have an internal room in the guy's locker room, where they can keep a towel around them and play gin rummy if they want to," Cornelio says.

Cornelio says he thinks the discrimination has hurt the club's recruiting efforts for new members. The facility, he says, is great, and he enjoys playing tennis with his daughter, taking his grandchildren to the pool and going to dinner there with his wife.

"But can you imagine if you're a prospective member, and you come in for a tour: 'Here's this great facility you can use, but that building there, no, you can't go in.' Most relationships don't work like that these days."

Cornelio and other members wrote letters of support asking for the changes, he says, and that when it was obvious nothing was going to happen, he put up his membership for sale. He still uses the facility, and his membership has to stay active while he's trying to sell it, as required by club rules.

"I have to wait my turn, but in this bad economy, it can take a long time to sell and end up costing money to get out," Cornelio says. "... I don't know if (being a member of the country club) conflicts with the judicial canons or not, but I do want to get out. It's just wrong. ... It's a frustrating issue that should have been resolved internally, and it shouldn't become divisive. Sometimes, compromises need to be made on both sides."

In recent years, then-Attorney General Terry Goddard has ruled in favor of gender-discrimination complaints made against the Phoenix Country Club. Loretta Hunnicutt says those complaints were supported by a women's legal association that pushed aggressively for changes.

Considering the new evidence and the support of the Women's Commission, Hunnicutt says Horne may now see things differently. In her letter, Hunnicutt alleges that the club depends on nonmember revenues, because the member fees are not enough to fully support the facility; she also argues that memberships are not selective.

Tucson Country Club general manager Donald Beaver did not return calls seeking comment.

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