It should be abundantly clear that engaging attorneys for counseling purposes, or to gain access to the courts of law essentially has been a futile exercise for golf course superintendents from Day One because superintendents will:
- Always have difficulty finding, engaging and affording qualified attorneys.
- Always be facing the likelihood of defeat in any serious legal entanglement because employer clubs will always be able to comfortably out-wait and out-spend them.
- Always have difficulty moving on to another job any time they legally confront a former/present employer because the employer grapevine will shut down job opportunities.
In summary, these are the collective reasons why superintendents generally do not challenge employers legally... even when in the right.
What Legal Recourse Do Superintendents Have?
A recourse that is widely used throughout the corporate/private sector but not within golf's not-for-profit world is the concept of binding arbitration. What are the unique benefits of binding arbitration?
First, it replaces the need to seek relief in the courts of law because case issues are tried before a single arbitrator and not a jury; and then, binding arbitration provides immediate, inexpensive court protected relief to both parties.
FYI: Both employer and employee must agree to binding arbitration before it becomes applicable. Generally, the burden falls on the superintendent, always with the guidance of an attorney, to first "sell" the concept of binding arbitration to an employer and then have it reflected in a written employment agreement. Reminder: binding arbitration laws vary from state to state.
Carrying this concept one step further, chapters should consider engaging a "chapter law firm" (on a pro bono or modest fee basis) whose job description would be limited to counseling chapter members regarding employment contract issues... including binding arbitration.
Because many lawyers play golf regularly and have a fond appreciation for the contributions superintendents make to the game, chapters should not have difficulty finding a law firm (preferably with an attorney belonging to a chapter member's club) to undertake this assignment because the workload would not be onerous. To spread the work load, the law firm would rotate one of its lawyers every two years to serve the chapter.
GCSAA should consider having an experienced attorney present an annual seminar at the GIS on the subject of binding arbitration.
Do not underestimate the value that for the first time binding arbitration allows golf course superintendents to enter into the legal forum on an equal footing with their employers.