WIllowbend Country Club, the private Massachusetts course where Rory McIlroy debuted his trophy the day after winning the U.S. Open in June, lost a 2009 age-discrimination case for the second time last week. On October 18, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) determined that the Cape Cod playground of the rich and famous owed a 65-year-old Florida woman some $1.4 million in damages, interest, and other costs for firing her in 2005.
The decision marked the second time Virginia Dilorio — 59, a 14-year employee, and club member at the time she was axed — has won her case against the Mashpee club that former Reebok mogul Paul Fireman owns. Willowbend executives appealed the original decision by a hearing officer to the full commission, resulting in the most recent ruling.
Conservative ruling. “Her award was conservative, not an error or abuse of discretion,” MCAD commissioners Julian Tynes, Sunila-Thomas George, and Jamie Williamson wrote, according to the Cape Cod Times.
Dilorio’s attorney agreed. “We are very pleased that the full commission…has affirmed the prior trial decision by the hearing officer,” Marc Redlich told us Thursday. “It is a fair and reasonable decision and would be a reasonable resolution of the matter.”
Dilorio began working at the club in 1991 and fell victim to Willowbend’s attempt to “bring in some younger blood,” according to an MCAD press release from the first case. The former VP of real estate sales filed the age-discrimination case in May 2006 and claimed in a September complaint that the club retaliated against her and her husband by prohibiting them from entering the club.
Twelve other workers — 10 of them over 50 and mostly women — lost their jobs in the house-cleaning aimed at presenting a younger face in the front office to attract younger members, according to Redlich. Many of them took severance packages in return for not filing complaints, he said.
Irony. Redlich also noted the ironic twist to the case that had the man who founded Willowbend after other clubs purportedly turned him away perpetrating the injustice. Fireman could avoid further bad PR by paying up, but Dilorio — who won almost $1 million in damages the first time around — has yet to receive any money from Willowbend and probably won’t for some time. The club’s next avenue of appeals would be to the state Superior Court, which Redlich said could determine if there were any violation of law or abuse of discretion by MCAD. The appeals process could eventually end up in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
“Unfortunately, I fear that Mr. Fireman and his company will try to drag this matter out for another several years,” Redlich said.
Willowbend members — including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Fidelity Investments bigwig Peter Lynch, and other Boston millionaires — pony up small fortunes to belong to the exclusive enclave that offers five sets of tees on 27 holes of undulating fairways with ocean views. Despite its bucolic locale, Willowbend has had a tumultuous history that includes a lawsuit claiming the owner misled members who paid through the nose to join, and precipitous drops in dues because of the sour economy. Just this spring, Willowbend opened its gates to the public in an attempt to boost membership.
Fireman, who recently bought Willowbend back from members also owns Liberty National Golf Club, which hosted the PGA Tour’s Barclays event in 2009. Willowbend’s vice president and Fireman’s attorneys and did not return requests for comments, while his spokesperson, George Regan said, “We have nothing else to add.”