|By David Wren, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 17, 2005 - About 100 vacationers who say they were locked out of a swimming pool at Bay Tree III because they are black have settled their discrimination lawsuit against the Little River condominium complex.
The vacationers, who were visiting in July 2001 for a family reunion, will get an undisclosed amount of money and letters of apology from the Bay Tree III homeowners' association.
In addition, staff members who oversee day-to-day operations at Bay Tree III must take fair-housing training.
Bay Tree III is part of the Bay Tree Plantation golf resort.
"This settlement makes clear that such racist behavior, and such blatant disregard for the law will not be tolerated," said Charles Lester, one of the attorneys who represented the vacationers.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., and Conway attorney Richard Lovelace also represented the vacationers.
Bay Tree III officials declined to comment on the settlement Tuesday.
Gloria Turner, a Temple Hills, Md., resident who helped organize the family reunion that drew 117 people, said she is happy with the settlement.
"The whole purpose of the suit wasn't so much monetary but to make sure that other people of ethnic backgrounds won't have this happen to them in the future," Turner said.
About 100 members of the Turner and Gray families attended the reunion, which started July 12 with a welcome reception in Bay Tree III's poolside gazebo. Some family members also swam in the pool during the welcome reception.
In court documents, Turner and other vacationers said Stuart Jenkins, Bay Tree III's property manager, "chained and padlocked the pool facilities" when the reception was over.
Reunion attendees were not allowed in the pool for the remainder of their stay, although Turner and others said white guests were allowed to swim. The pool was unlocked July 15, the day the reunion ended.
Jenkins said in an affidavit that the pool was closed because of a pH imbalance that occurred because too many reunion attendees were in the pool at the same time.
"There were exactly 37 people in the pool," Jenkins said in court papers. "Additionally, there were approximately another 40 people inside the fence, and yet another 25 or 30 in and around the gazebo."
The pool has a maximum limit of 15 people, according to Bay Tree III regulations.
Jenkins declined to comment Tuesday.
"I don't know that discussion of that is of any benefit," said Jenkins, who was replaced as property manager in June after nearly 10 years on the job.
The homeowners' association tried unsuccessfully last year to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming Bay Tree III isn't subject to the S.C. Public Accommodations Act -- which bars racial discrimination -- because the condo units are privately owned.
The S.C. Human Affairs Commission also was unable to mediate a settlement between Bay Tree III and the reunion attendees.
Don Plugge, president of the Bay Tree III board of directors, declined to comment on the lawsuit settlement Tuesday.
Turner said she has vacationed at Bay Tree Plantation "at least 15 times over the past 13 years and never had any problems." Turner said that's why she recommended the resort when her family was voting on a place to hold its biennial reunion in 2001.
"We selected Bay Tree, in part, because of its amenities, including the pool facilities," she said. "But instead of being able to enjoy them, we were humiliated and saddened during what was meant to be an enjoyable family gathering."
Turner, who runs a travel planning agency that specializes in cruises, said she continues to visit the Grand Strand but hasn't stayed at Bay Tree since the 2001 reunion. She said she doubts future reunions will ever be held here, though.
"I like Myrtle Beach, but I don't think we could get a group to go there again," Turner said. "That incident has tainted my family's view about that area."
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