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Golfer sues course, claims religious discrimination

by Lee Barnathan

February 18, 2011 | 4:07 pm

As the PGA Northern Trust Open gets under way at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, golfer Wade Morris finds himself on the sideline, a victim of what he says is religious discrimination.

Morris has filed suit against Angeles National Golf Club in Sunland, alleging that the club prevented him from playing in a Feb. 9 tournament there — which could have qualified him to play this weekend — because of his religion. Morris once worked as a driving range instructor at Angeles National and said he knew the course well.

“I’m very disgusted,” Morris said. “I know I should be out there. … I was practicing on the course. I know it like the back of my hand.”

Not being able to participate in the qualifying tournament was only the last of many encounters with Angeles National that finally caused Morris to file suit, alleging wrongful termination.

In his lawsuit, Morris alleges he was paid $2,000 per month but was required to work a minimum of 12 hours a day, six days a week, often without breaks. Morris claims he was fired after complaining that he was not being paid fairly, and was not allowed to take breaks. Before being terminated, he had also complained that he was not being allowed to have time off to attend synagogue (he worships at Em Habanim Sephardic Congregation in North Hollywood) or to attend High Holy Days services. Morris said he had also complained previously about the sexist way the female employees at the golf course were being treated.

Four former employees filed suits against Angeles National Golf Course in June 2010, alleging that the course harbored an environment of sexual and racial harassment, discrimination, and frequently required employees to work overtime without compensation.

Morris’ lawyer, Ann Hull, said Morris filed a discrimination complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which caused Angeles National to kick him off the course and permanently banned him, allegedly for smoking.

In a Feb.11 statement, Angeles National spokesman Eric W. Rose said the club considers the lawsuits “meritless” and “an unconscionable and irresponsible abuse of the legal system by disgruntled former employees.”

The statement went on to say that Morris is not allowed to play at the course because of his lawsuit and because he violated club policies on smoking and discarding butts.

This wasn’t the first time Morris had attempted to qualify for the Northern Trust Open at Angeles National. He tried last year, too, and was escorted off the premises while trying to play a practice round, Hull said.

This year, taking no chances, he contacted the PGA months ago and spoke to Rob Keller, tournament director for the Southern California PGA. Morris said Keller told him that since the PGA was in control of this event, he would be welcomed to participate.

Two days before the event, Morris said, Keller called him again and told him that Angeles National attorneys said Morris would be guilty of trespassing if he was to appear that day. Angeles National is a public golf course.

Keller could not be reached for comment.

Morris said Keller gave him entry into another qualifying tournament at Los Serranos Country Club in Chino Hills. Morris shot 80 and failed to qualify.

Hull said Morris’ complaint is scheduled to be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court in September along with those of other former Angeles National employees. She said Morris seeks damages but will leave it to the jury to decide the amount.

Meanwhile, Morris continues to hone his game and plans to play tournaments on the Golden State Golf Tour.

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