Lawsuit alleges bias, fights, public sex at Balboa Bay Club

A Newport Beach businessman filed a lawsuit against the Balboa Bay Club and its owners Thursday, alleging the beachfront resort routinely ignored drunken escapades by its members but kicked him out after one incident when he accidentally mixed painkillers and alcohol.

In the lawsuit, former member Steve George claims he was treated unfairly compared with the club’s reaction to other members’ behavior, which he alleges includes groping, fights with staff, boating while intoxicated and public sex.

Mike Caspino, a lawyer for the club, said George was involved in at least two incidents before being barred from the property, including assaulting an employee and an altercation in a club bar when police were called.

“To us, this is entirely a safety issue,” Caspino said of the ban.

George’s 27-page complaint filed in Orange County Superior Court says he and his family were club members in good standing since 1990.

The lawsuit says George paid $15,000 a month for his membership and to keep his two yachts at the club’s marina. But in June, the club revoked his lifetime membership.

Earlier that month, George was taking Percocet, which contains the painkiller Oxycodone, to treat a broken arm. Unaware of the problems associated with mixing alcohol with the medication, George was drinking at a club bar and suffered an “adverse reaction,” according to the lawsuit. He became disoriented and started arguing with a club employee, the suit says.

A few days later, George received a letter saying his membership at the club was canceled and he was banned from the property.

George claims club management then defamed him by telling members and employees that he was kicked out because he has a drinking problem and got into a fight.

“He has a wife and a young son and they’ve all enjoyed the club, and we feel that this is very unfair,” said George’s lawyer, Brian McCormack.

“Mr. George honestly didn’t do anything,” McCormack said. “He didn’t hit anyone.”

George’s lawsuit spends at least five pages laying out allegations of escapades of club members who escaped punishment.

In one case, the lawsuit says, a cast member of a popular reality show was drinking with her husband on July 4, 2010, when they left their daughters buckled in a stroller by the pool. The stroller rolled into the water while the couple were away taking shots of alcohol, prompting a lifeguard to fish the girls out, the suit claims.

In 2011, the suit says, security guards caught a member and his wife having sex on the club’s dock. "[The man] and his wife frequently have sex in the bathrooms at the club,” the lawsuit alleges. “This behavior is well-known by the club’s owners, management and staff, but the club has issued no discipline or adverse action against [him].”

The complaint describes other club members or their children setting a basketball court on fire, forgetting a 3-year-old before setting off on a drunken boat trip, hurling racial insults or stuffing $100 bills into waitresses’ blouses. George contends none of those members was banned.

Though it’s unclear when someone was last kicked out, there is a defined threshold for what is allowed, Caspino said.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about with other incidents with other people,” Caspino said. “I think he has to focus on his own conduct and not that of others.”

The club’s management takes umbrage at the idea that its members are anything but “ladies and gentlemen,” Caspino said.

But George alleges that management encourages wild behavior by serving heavy amounts of alcohol and a habit of refilling members’ drink glasses before they’re empty.

According to the lawsuit, members often swap stories about the heavy drinking of the resort’s most famous former member, late actor John Wayne.

McCormack said his law firm and George’s employees at Real Estate Portfolio Management gathered stories of debauchery from club employees and members.

McCormack said he hopes to confirm them through depositions to prove that the club management and owners discriminated against George.

George’s broken arm, which he described as a disability, caused him to take the painkillers with alcohol and “act out of character,” according to his lawyer. In that vein, the lawsuit claims the club violated George’s civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act by banning him.

Caspino called that tactic unfortunate.

“In our eyes, the ADA is meant to protect people who have suffered blindness, paralysis,” he said. “And we believe in the ADA. We just don’t think the ADA was created to protect people who have Oxycodone and then drink to excess.”

In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit seeks an injunction forcing the club to reinstate George and let him keep leasing moorings for his yachts. It also requests a jury trial to settle the issue.

Caspino said George already had a chance to make his case. The club’s board had a hearing, but instead of showing up, George sent his lawyer to read a statement and leave before presenting testimony or evidence, Caspino said.