Pennsylvania

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By: Rob Harris

According to a published report, Melissa Conde has filed suit against Pennsylvania’s Huntsville Golf Club, in which she asserts that “she was fired …after getting into an argument with a co-worker who alleged Conde used ‘F bombs’ and threatened to kill her during an event for dozens of physicians.”

While some of you may think that such conduct would in fact constitute adequate grounds for termination, Ms. Conde claims that her firing was really in retaliation for her challenging unlawful conduct by the club and its employees.

According to Ms. Conde, the club consistently asked her to work on Sundays, notwithstanding that she was a churchgoer Who, after services, “spent the rest of the day to reflect in prayer.”

In addition to her claim of religious discrimination, Ms. Conde’s complaint alleges that the club failed to expel a member after he “grazed Conde’s breast and said she looked like she would ‘qualify’ to work at his strip club.”

Employment litigation is an area fertile with factual disputes about the circumstances surrounding employment and discharge, and it appears as though Ms. Conde’s suit against Huntsville Golf Club fits this profile. Stay tuned for an answering statement from the club that likely will paint a different picture than that of Ms. Conde’s complaint.

 

By: Rob Harris

Perch Hankin purchased Pennsylvania’s Fairways Golf Course on May 30, 1985. Mr. Hankin opted to subdivide and sell the land on which the tees for the fifth hole were located to a developer, who constructed a house, while permitting the land to continue to be used as the fifth hole teeing ground.

Fast forward twenty-five years, by which time both the golf course and the house had new owners. In November 2010, the homeowner, who initially had complained about golf balls striking her house shortly after her 2005 purchase of the home, decided to take matters into her own hands. She erected a temporary fence across the tee boxes that prevented golfers from accessing the fifth hole tee boxes.

The golf course owner and manager filed suit, demanding that the homeowner remove the fence. The trial court entered a preliminary injunction. Down came the fence. Tee shots once again were struck on the fifth hole.

Meanwhile, the homeowner filed a host of counterclaims against the course owner and manager, claiming that they had no legal right to use the land for the teeing area since the deed provided for no easement.

Off the case went to the jury, who was charged with deciding whether the course owner had obtained a “prescriptive” right to use the land by virtue of having done so continuously since 1985, or whether the homeowner was entitled to damages from the course’s wrongful use of her land.

Faced with these seemingly inconsistent assertions, the jury came back with its verdict, proclaiming both sides winners. The jury found the golf course, indeed, had acquired prescriptive rights to use the land AND that the homeowner was entitled to $105,000 in damages.

Determining it could not logically unravel the seeming contradiction, the trial court, throwing up its hands, ordered a new trial.

The court on appeal recently upheld this decision, directing that a new trial be held.

By: Rob Harris

“Attendance at a special annual golf tournament, even one in memory of a family member, does not fall within the category excusing intentional violation of a known work rule.”

So ruled the Honorable Robert Simpson, Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In this case, the tournament was held in honor of Jay A. Ryan Sr., father of Jay A. Ryan Jr. The younger Mr. Ryan sought to take a day off of work to attend the tournament. His request was denied by the company president on the basis that Mr. Ryan had no remaining vacation time.

Mr. Ryan nonetheless attended the tournament. He was fired from work for insubordination. His subsequent request for unemployment compensation was denied, with the court finding that his “unemployment is due to willful misconduct connected to his work.”

Before cringing at the thought of an employer refusing an employee’s request to attend his father’s memorial golf tournament, consider the following:

  • The previous month, Mr. Ryan “either left work early, or was late to work, every day for a week. In response, Employer gave Claimant a written disciplinary warning regarding his poor attendance.”
  • Mr. Ryan submitted into evidence a purported email from his boss, stating “I have reconsidered your request. You will be off August 16 for your father’s golf tournament. Instead, you will work your regularly scheduled day off on Wednesday August 14.” The boss, however, claimed that she “absolutely did not” send that email, and the tribunal apparently concluded that Mr. Ryan somehow had fabricated it.

By: Rob Harris

The attached article (which includes a copy of the federal court complaint) serves as a reminder to golf clubs that employee claims remain an ever present risk.

The plaintiff alleges that she brought her accusations of harassment to the club, but she was promptly terminated. Assuming the case does not settle, the courts ultimately will determine whether this allegation (along with the claim of harassment) is factually accurate.

While perhaps the club did conduct an internal investigation, that is not clear. The takeaway for golf clubs should be the importance of having appropriate protocols in place that provide for the investigation of claims.

By: Rob Harris

On August 3, Roger Lee Harris (no relation!) and Bryan Louis Bandes were charged with various counts of assault, following a fight that occurred on the Springdale (Pennsylvania) Golf Club course, having “become embroiled in a heated debate over the rules of golf, specifically regarding water.”

With a golf club allegedly used as a weapon by one of the combatants, it is with complete accuracy and only a small dose of iron-y that I report the case was assigned to Judge Robert Breakiron. With the golfers reportedly refusing to testify against each other (and apparently unwilling to call a violation on themselves), Judge Breakiron determined that a dismissal of all charges was in order.

According to published reports, His Honor left them with a message: “Learn how to conduct yourselves on a golf course. I don’t want you to be back again in this courtroom or I’m going to assess you two penalty strokes.”

By: Rob Harris

The website for the Springdale (Pennsylvania) Golf Club lists as one of the club’s events a “2 Man Scramble.” Based on this weekend’s widely reported ”rules dispute,” SGC should think about adding a “2 Man Rumble” to its competitions.

“According to a police news release, two golfers – one 42 years old and the other 63 – were playing together on Sunday at the Springdale Golf Course in South Union Township and ‘became embroiled in a heated debate over the rules of golf, specifically regarding water, on the fifth hole.’

“The golfers were able to resolve the issue at that time and continue playing, but another argument was “reignited” on the seventh hole ‘similarly involving rules, or lack of understanding of said rules.’”

For a local newsman’s perspective, here’s the video.

 

By: Rob Harris

Pennsylvania state legislator Jim Christiana, having sponsored legislation that would have benefited Pittsburgh-based health insurer Highmark, found himself playing as Highmark’s guest in the pro-am for the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.

Confronting the to-be-expected suggestions of quid pro quo favoritism, Christiana issued the following statement:

“Let me be explicitly clear, it is way off-base to say that my participation in this charity event had anything to do with my bill. Whether Highmark supported it or opposed it was irrelevant to me from the start. I thought it was the right thing to do at the right time.”

Highmark’s spokesman responded in kind, asserting that any suggestion of favoritism “would be ridiculous.” “We routinely invite local elected officials and clients to community events.”

By: Rob Harris

Cases recently filed in Pennsylvania and Alaska serve as cautionary tales that golf outings carry liability risks to clubs, organizers and charities.

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death suit has been filed by the estate of a woman killed by a driver who became intoxicated at an annual charity golf tournament held–ready for this?– in honor of a woman killed by drunk driver in 1997. The defendants to the lawsuit include Five Ponds Golf Club (the course), Bump and Run Charity Golf (the company that ran the event) and The D’Angelo Foundation (the event sponsor).

Similarly, the families of two teenage girls killed by a driver charged with driving under the influence, have sued him and also his employer Puget Sound Pipe and Supply Co. This Alaska lawsuit alleges that, at a company sponsored golf event, the company continued to serve alcohol to the driver after he was clearly intoxicated.

To state the obvious, anyone involved in organizing or sponsoring a golf event needs to make sure there is adequate insurance in place. Insurance companies can push back, however, if the insured intentionally or recklessly ignores obvious risks.

 

By: Rob Harris

Here’s a link to a story about a Pittsburgh sportscaster who is suing a number of large chemical companies, claiming that their pesticides caused the death of his father, a long time golf course superintendent, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

I am aware of no such other cases that have been brought, and I wonder if others have knowledge?

Establishing causation between chemical exposure and cancer is a daunting task, so I anticipate that plaintiff will face an uphill challenge in this litigation.

 

By: Rob Harris

Pennsylvania residents, Susan and Jeffrey Rocke, were visiting the Pebble Beach resort, when Ms. Rocke tripped and hurt her head.  The Rockes sued Pebble (sorry), and did so in their home state of Pennsylvania.

To force Pebble Beach Company–a California corporation–to defend the litigation in Pennsylvania, Mr. and Mrs. Rocke needed to establish that Pebble Beach maintained “continuous and systematic” contacts with Pennsylvania.

This hurdle proved daunting for the plaintiffs. The court noted that the undisputed evidence revealed the following:

Pebble Beach is not licensed or incorporated to do business in Pennsylvania.  Pebble Beach has never filed tax returns or been required to file tax returns in Pennsylvania.  Pebble Beach does not file administrative reports with any an agency or department within Pennsylvania. Pebble Beach does not have physical land or property in Pennsylvania.  Pebble Beach does not maintain an agent within Pennsylvania. Additionally, Pebble Beach has never had a sales manager who was located in Pennsylvania. Ms. McAuliffe, who has been Pebble Beach’s Sales Manager of the Northeast (U.S.) for the past twenty years, has never been to Pennsylvania for business trips, nor have any employees who work for her. In addition, neither Ms. McAuliffe nor her employees have attended trade shows in Pennsylvania.

Against this evidence, plaintiffs were left with arguments the court found fatally flimsy:

  • Pebble Beach had a licensing contract with a manufacturer of golf simulators that happened to be based in Pennsylvania.
  • Pebble Beach did business with Pennsylvania travel agents and other vendors representing, in total, less than 0.5% of Pebble Beach’s accounts payable.
  • Pebble Beach branded products “are offered for purchase in Pennsylvania at Nordstrom, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Costco, and PGA Tour shops; Pebble Beach books are sold at Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pebble Beach video games “are sold worldwide by any retailer that sells video games, including those in Pennsylvania”; and Pebble Beach golf simulators, such as the simulators …, “can be easily found by simply ‘surfing the internet.’”
  • Pebble Beach maintained an interactive website that could be accessed by Pennsylvania residents.
  • Pebble Beach personnel attended the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

The court found that these circumstances, considered individually or cumulatively, provided an insufficient basis to force Pebble Beach Company to defend the lawsuit in Pennsylvania. Thus, absent a successful appeal, Mr. and Ms. Rocke will be required to pursue the litigation in California.

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