Okay, so it's not quite up there with desegregating the schools, or swearing in the nation's first black president.
But Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard can take credit today for an advance in civil rights: Under a settlement with his office, the Phoenix Country Club has finally agreed to open its Men's Grill to club members of both sexes.
The lawsuit originated with a complaint from Logan and Barbara Van Sittert, longtime club members who touched off a firestorm when they asked that Barbara not be banished to the far-less-cool Women's Grill. We first broke news of the Van Sitterts' complaint in July 2007; since then, Goddard agreed to file suit on the couple's behalf -- and club members have been engaged in a far-from-civil war.
One of the club's top golfers was kicked out of PCC for daring to criticize the men's-only policy to the New York Times. A PCC board member was revealed as the author as a series of ridiculously juvenile emails and message board postings about members favoring desegregation -- and ended up resigning his post.
The club even managed to find a way to sue Logan Van Sittert. Can you say "retaliation"?
The club's directors had vowed not to integrate the Men's Grill, saying time and again that they were a private club and the state couldn't legally force them to let female members into the Men's Grill, even if it was much nicer than the casual dining facility reserved for women.
But, according to Goddard, they've now folded. Under the settlement, they'll be changing some of their policies to make the club officially a "private accomodation" -- key words under civil rights law -- but, they'll also be opening up the dining facilities.
"Under the agreement, upon the reopening of its indoor dining facilities in February when extensive renovations are completed, PCC will open all of its dining facilities, including the Men's Grill and Women's Grill, to all members, members' families and club guests and will not discriminate in providing any dining accommodations, advantages or privileges on the basis of sex," the attorney general's office said in a press release.
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No word at this point who will foot the legal bills for this one. But in his prepared statement, Attorney General Goddard sounds downright giddy.
"During this week of celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, we are proud to eliminate one more vestige of discrimination from a bygone era," Goddard wrote.
In that vein, we're pleased to announce that from now, dining rooms in Phoenix are free at last! Thank God almighty, they are free at last!
So long, of course, that you can afford a country-club membership ...