Thursday, June 20, 2024

Orange County Golf Club Staffer Details Sexual Harassment Allegations In $15M Suit

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A $15 million lawsuit filed Tuesday by a former beverage cart attendant against the exclusive Seal Beach country club where she worked claims the young woman was forced to endure constant sexual harassment from wealthy golfers while on the job as management looked away. 

Peyton Stover, 26, landed a job at the Old Ranch Country Club, which is owned by Dallas-based ClubCorp, the nation’s largest owner of private clubs, when she was 23. A few months into the job, Stover complained to a supervisor that club members were repeatedly touching, propositioning, and pressuring her to drink with them. In response to her complaints, Stover’s supervisor told her that for the amount of money members pay, they can do whatever they want, according to the legal filing.

“It’s shocking that any employer would tell an employee that club members pay enough to grope who they want, but that’s exactly what the Old Ranch told my client,” said attorney Raymond Babaian, a partner at Valiant Law. “The club took advantage of an inexperienced and scared employee because it wanted to put profits over safety.”

When Stover first complained of the harassment she is now suing over to her immediate supervisor, he refused to get involved. She soon found that everyone up the chain of command at the club would fail to protect her—with one even sexually harassing her himself, saying that “being objectified makes you money.”

The suit claims that the club also required Stover to work long hours without meals or breaks. It seeks compensation for underpayment of wages and unspecified damages related to a litany of labor violations she says took place at Old Ranch, including assault, battery, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and a hostile work environment.

The suit also claims that during her initial interview, a supervisor asked if Stover had “thick skin” and could keep her mouth shut. When she began training on the beverage cart, her predecessor warned that male members would hit on her and try to “force” her to drink alcohol on the job, Stover alleges. According to the complaint, Stover “wasn’t sure what to make of these comments at the time and merely brushed them off.”

At first, Stover says she thought her employer could protect her from such over-the-top harassment from the members, Babaian said. But a few months into her employment, one club member shoved her onto a golf cart, bent her over, and proceeded to mime a sex act. When Stover alerted her supervisor about the alleged abuse, she says he claimed the member would be spoken to about the matter. Yet days later, she says the member was spotted back at the club; her manager told Stover that very little could be done, as the suit states—the man paid too much money for his membership.

Staff beverage cart attendants like Stover were treated as if they were strippers, said Babaian, and the country club’s management allowed such behavior of its members. In addition to being touched or grabbed without consent, Stover would have to dodge kisses and had $100 bills thrown at her, the suit claims.

“The laws in California are clear: An employer has a duty to protect its employees,” Babaian said.

Phone calls placed to the Old Ranch Country Club by LAMag to ask about the allegations were not returned. 

Not only was Stover sexually harassed by members, but she also saw similar treatment from her own supervisor, who allegedly once asked her what color underwear she was wearing. Stover took those comments to a different supervisor, who simply acknowledged the first manager is “creepy” and left the matter unresolved.

With no protection from management, Stover claims she had to endure appalling and aggressive behavior day in and out from club goers.

One member allegedly harassed her for eight months, flirting relentlessly and sometimes touching Stover across her back and legs. He would kiss her without her consent, and text her while she was at work, the suit claims. Old Ranch Inn encouraged Stover to give members her cell phone number, she says.

Another club member allegedly sent Stover explicit text messages, threw money at her, and kissed her without her consent; a third harasser told Stover he would pay $300 to see her breasts, the suit claims; that man has also been accused of assault and battery as he apparently lifted her shirt, bent her over in front of the other men, and forcing her to drink by pushing her against a golf cart and dousing her in alcohol.

By June 2021, Stover said that she couldn’t take it anymore. Depressed, she says she turned to drinking alcohol for solace; eventually, she resigned from the Old Ranch Inn.

“I was really scared and nervous,” she recalls of her time at the Old Ranch Country Club. “I didn’t have any support, and I was convinced they were not going to do anything to protect me. “[It was] the most traumatic experience I ever had…It took a long time after leaving that place for me to feel stronger.”

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