The e-mail was sent to a female member of the Phoenix Country Club — and it was pointed.
"Can you stop you[r] bullshit at PCC," the e-mail demanded. "Nobody likes you and your type needs to go . . . The last thing we need is more lezzies like you down there . . . You suck."
The recipient's "bullshit"? Complaining about the Men's Grill. For decades, the sporty central Phoenix club has kept its casual dining rooms sex-segregated. Naturally, the men get an airy bar and grill with flat-screen TVs and a patio; the women get a little nook with a salad bar.
Phoenix Country Club
All this might have been uncontroversial in 1958. But in 2007, a pair of longtime members, Logan and Barbara Van Sittert, filed a formal complaint with the state attorney general — and a (hardly) civil war has been waged by the membership ever since. Logan Van Sittert found his locker vandalized. Graffiti calling Barbara a bitch appeared on the golf course. One of the club's best golfers, a lawyer named Rusty Brown, was reprimanded by the club after he criticized the segregated grills at a luncheon sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association.
And then came the e-mails.
No surprise, the writer did not sign his name. He was using a gmail account, apparently established solely for the purpose of the harassment. In the address line, he gave his name as "Kick the Bastards Out."
Kick the Bastards Out was a busy little bee this spring. He sent e-mails to several female critics of the Men's Grill. He also fired off e-mails warning critical club members like Rusty Brown that their personal information would be posted on Web sites around town — and then did so, posting two members' phone numbers on backpage.com, the classified advertising site controlled by New Times.
He titled the post "femi natzis . . . HERE IN PHOENIX."
Lock up your wife and daughter! The femi natzis are here!
In the rarefied world of the Phoenix Country Club, it was scandalous stuff. The club's members are physicians, political consultants, and top lawyers at the big firms. (Barry Goldwater himself used to be president.) They are not, generally, angry ditto-heads with a third-grade mastery of spelling.
The club's board of directors insisted that it was powerless to stop the harassment.
When one of the victims complained, then-board president William Maledon — Maledon as in Osborn Maledon, one of the city's top law firms — sent him an e-mail claiming that it was impossible to take action. The board, Maledon wrote, had done everything from consulting "IT experts" to talking to security at the Maricopa County Superior Court. (One of the alleged "lezzies," as it turns out, is a judge there.)
Nobody had any idea how to trace the e-mail.
"If the Board knew who sent them, I have no doubt that that person would be expelled from the club," Maledon wrote.
Well, those "IT experts" and "security" people must have been morons.
It might be news to anyone over 50, but of course you can trace e-mail addresses and the source of nasty comments. You just need to file a lawsuit, and the court will compel Google or Yahoo! or even backpage.com to turn over information about who signed up for the e-mail address or who made the offensive posts. Only Web whizzes know how to hide this sort of information from the combined eyes of the law and Internet service providers.
Kick the Bastards Out, it's safe to say, was no whiz.
So, two club members filed a lawsuit. Google turned over what it had about the origins of the e-mail account; so did backpage.com.
Only then did it become clear why the board had done such a cursory "investigation."
The guy who'd posted the nasty comments, the guy who'd sent the nasty e-mails, was a member of the board of directors, Mike Hayes.
Last year, when I broke the story about the Phoenix Country Club's grill problem, I was, I have to admit, fairly blasé about the Men's Grill issue ("Men Behaving Badly," July 19, 2007).
I write frequently about innocent people caught up in events beyond their control; people facing years in prison for a silly mistake; people who stand to lose their kids because of inept bureaucracy. When you're looking at matters of life and death and incarceration, anything that has to do with a country club seems pretty frivolous.
So a group of rich people decides to bar women from one of its dining facilities? Cry me a freakin' river.
But a funny thing happened when the attorney general began to look into the Van Sitterts' complaint. A certain element of the club went nuts.
The board of directors changed the club rules so that a woman can't inherit a membership if her husband kicks the bucket. She'd have to re-apply. (Apparently, the club's grand poobahs thought that Barbara Van Sittert would outlive her husband — if Logan were to kick it, they could be rid of the couple for good.)
They passed another rule saying that anyone who files a lawsuit against the club, or even threatens one, can be expelled from PCC — and held responsible for all legal fees, no matter what the outcome.
They decreed that any member who made "derogatory or otherwise injurious comments" to the media would face expulsion.
And, most appallingly, they filed a lawsuit against the Van Sitterts. Court records show that the Van Sitterts were sued in April 2008, roughly one year after they filed the complaint with Attorney General Terry Goddard.
Logan Van Sittert, who is an architect, had supervised a minor improvement project at the club in 2001. Court records show he designed and managed a $55,500 project to construct two restrooms and a pair of drinking fountains on the golf course. The club is now suing for negligence and breach of contract over alleged "deficient design and construction."
Here's where it gets funny. Supposedly, the club found "microbial growth" in March 2007 — just months after the Van Sitterts started making noise about the Men's Grill.
Can't you just see these clowns, hunting frantically for some way to fire back at the couple? Several men on the board of directors are in the construction industry; I can just imagine one of them saying, "Hey, piece of cake! We'll send experts out to case the golf course toilets — how much do you wanna bet we can find some microbial growth?"
It's kind of amazing. The guys running this club, the board of directors, include lawyers at some of the most reasonable, respectable firms in town. They've got William Maledon, of Osborn Maledon. They've got Joel Hoxie, of Snell & Wilmer. They've got Tim Brown, of Gallagher & Kennedy. And yet they've let a minor impasse turn into a major imbroglio.
When I first wrote about this issue, I wondered what the big deal was about the Men's Grill: Why did Barbara Van Sittert think it was worth fighting to get in?
But now I'm wondering what the big deal is about the grill for an entirely different reason. Namely, why is the club's board of directors fighting so ridiculously hard just to keep women out?
Last month, the board expelled a member for making innocuous comments to the media. Rusty Brown, an attorney and six-time winner of the club's golf championship, had told the New York Times that "most men are indifferent to the [men's-only grill] policy or against it" — and was booted for it. The club seemed stunned when that decision touched off another round of negative press. (Even Golf World magazine suddenly found the controversy interesting.)
Court records show that Brown was one of the original targets of the club's anonymous e-mailer, Kick the Bastards Out. Bastard, as I'll call him for short, posted Brown's personal information on backpage.com — triggering a lawsuit from Brown and fellow attorney Ron Warnicke.
And though the lawsuit doesn't give information about the incident's aftermath, a packet of documents that arrived in my mailbox this month does.
The documents, which appear to be a series of back-and-forth e-mails among board members and attorney Warnicke, reveal the culprit's identity as that of board member Mike Hayes, who works for Momentum Transportation. (Hayes did not reply to a message seeking comment.)
Apparently, after the suit was filed, Google sent Hayes a letter saying that his "Kick the Bastards Out" gmail account had been subject to a subpoena. Google intended to reveal his identity to the club.
At that point, Hayes must have realized he was in trouble. According to the e-mails I obtained, Hayes then went to the board to "confess" his role in the nasty messages.
Word at PCC is that he was allowed to resign. (The club's new president, Mike Krueger, didn't return calls for comment. Hey, the guy is probably worried about expulsion if he opens his yap.)
So, let me recap. The club kicked out Rusty Brown for telling the New York Times that most of the club members were really good guys who did not, in fact, want a men's-only grill.
And yet Mike Hayes was allowed to resign quietly after hassling at least four club members with messages calling them "lezzies," "femi natzis," and "dorks"? (Yes, he really used the word "dorks." And, no, I don't think Mike Hayes is 12.)
It boggles the mind.
I've heard from Phoenix Country Club members who want to know why I've written about their Men's Grill but haven't written anything about the gender-segregated dining options at the Arizona Country Club and Paradise Valley Country Club.
They've got a point, but it only goes so far.
When Logan and Barbara Van Sittert first wrote a letter to the board, demanding that the Men's Grill be opened to women, the board could have made this whole thing go away. They could have acquiesced. Or compromised. Or probably even ignored them.
We reporters have short attention spans. We'd have written about the situation once, but we would have moved on.
But then a few angry members created a carnival. They changed the membership rules, enacted a stupid media policy, and decided to sue the Van Sitterts. Now that Attorney General Terry Goddard has informed the club that he believes the Men's Grill violates civil rights law, the club has vowed to fight on.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, another longtime club member filed suit. Attorney Frederick Berry is asking a judge to declare that the club's newly approved policies violate its members' civil rights. He argues that the club can't stop members from talking to the media, or filing lawsuits.
Berry also asks for the court to declare that the club is a public accommodation — a decision that would, on its face, make the Men's Grill unconstitutional. (Only private clubs can discriminate on the basis of gender.)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Finally, thanks to the documents that were leaked to me this month, we learn that at least one member of the board of directors was not only a hopeless Neanderthal, but one stupid enough to enshrine his comments on a public forum. And the board was more than willing to bury the incident without investigation!
Why do I keep writing about the Phoenix Country Club?
I couldn't make up a story this good.