Chronister shrugs off PHRC, potentially prompting second round of public hearings
A second round of public hearings about an April 2018 incident at Grandview Golf Club involving five African American women could happen after Steve Chronister, an adviser at the course, declined to attend conciliation with a quasi-judicial agency.
Chronister, also a former county commissioner, on Monday said the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission moved the case to its legal unit after he refused to attend a mid-March conciliation between the groups to resolve the women's complaints stemming from an alleged instance of discrimination at the course.
The legal department could opt for a public hearing, according to the PHRC.
"This letter is official notification that efforts to conciliate the above referenced cases have failed, for the following reason: Respondent declined to attend conciliation conference," wrote Keith Yundt, the commission's compliance and housing unit supervisor, in internal emails provided by Chronister.
"Assistant Chief Counsel will review this case for placement on the public hearing docket."
Yundt's comments were a response to an email from Chronister declining to participate in the upcoming conciliation. In the email, Chronister called the process a "sham" and said the commission has "zero credibility."
The PHRC declined to comment on details of the emails provided to The York Dispatch.
The ongoing dispute that is being handled by the commission dates back to April 2018. That year, Chronister twice called the police on the five women, alleging slow place of play, and prompted widespread allegations of racism.
The video went viral, coinciding with other racial incidents nationwide.
Those included two African American men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks and a group of African Americans in California having the police called on them during a barbecue.
The women involved in the Grandview incident are NAACP President Sandra Thompson, Myneca Ojo, Sandra Harrison, Karen Crosby and Carolyn Dow.
The case in front of the PHRC now is not technically a lawsuit. But the commission has authority to oversee race-related complaints filed with the agency and try to resolve the matter without going to court.
Chronister initially tried to offer the women free golfing lessons to resolve the matter last year, but the women scoffed and criticized what they saw as a lack of seriousness.
He most recently offered to create a free golfing program for inner-city children — though he asserted he would do so even if it wasn't a part of the settlement.
Initially, four of the five women demanded $500,000 each to resolve the complaint of what they continue to classify as an example of racism.
Ojo and Crosby recently lowered their demands to $100,000 each. Harrison was still awaiting a counteroffer to the $500,000, according to emails between Chronister and the PHRC.
Dow, the fifth woman during the Grandview incident, never supplied a complaint to the commission last fall, so she is not a part of the conciliation.
Chronister has said that he wouldn't pay them a dime.
As it's been made clear the two parties won't cooperate — due to Chronister refusing to attend conciliation — they will have to go through public hearings such as those that took place in 2018 that went unresolved, according to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
The hearing process, which involves several steps, has not yet been scheduled.
Whenever the process begins, however, the PHRC's chairperson will first appoint a three-commissioner panel or a hearing examiner, the law states.
Those involved would then participate in a pre-hearing discovery where they can participate on depositions and request for admissions. A pre-hearing conference then would occur, giving the two parties the opportunity to make stipulations of fact and law.
At the actual public hearing, the parties would have the option to offer public testimonies to give their impressions of the 2018 event.
At the 2018 hearings, neither Chronister nor the owner, his son Jordan, appeared.
The commission would finally decide on the case and possibly offer remediation to plaintiffs. However, its powers are limited.
The PHRC, for example, is able to entitle victims of discrimination to make-whole relief.
But is unable to award punitive damages for mental anguish or humiliation.
Chronister has rejected the women's accounts of the incident and insisted he isn't racist. If that were true, he argued, his prejudice would have come up when the women first tried to buy memberships prior to the incident.
The commission has recently agreed that there was "probable cause" to believe just that, but Chronister has called it a "money grab"
Thompson did not file a demand in the upcoming conciliation, as the commission would not allow for a confidentiality agreement at the conciliation.
Three of the four women involved in the PHRC complaint could not be reached for comment.
Thompson was the only one to respond, but she declined to comment because she wouldn't talk about "anything related to Chronister."
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.