Two summers ago, Fairfax Station resident Gina Park and the pool manager at her community swim club got into a tiff over a little pink swimsuit.
The suit, worn by Park's 3-year-old daughter, Natalia, qualified as a flotation device because it had buoyant pads sewn in, so Park had to get in the water to supervise the girl, the pool manager said. But the club's rules didn't specifically mention such suits, and Park argued that Natalia was perfectly safe in two feet of water.
The tiff became a running battle, and the Parks became the first and only family ever to be kicked out of the Swim and Tennis Club of Fairfax Station. Their son, Alex, now 8, was even banned from a friend's birthday party held at the club.
The Parks responded by filing a $120,000 discrimination suit.
Yesterday, a federal judge restored peace to Fairfax Station, arm-twisting both sides to accept a settlement. The Parks apologized for alleging that they were expelled because Sam Park, Gina Park's husband, is Korean, and the board agreed to readmit them to the club in August. In the meantime, the two sides agreed, the Parks' three children will be allowed to attend birthday parties at the club.
"I encourage the neighborhood to continue to exist in harmony," said U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who set the stage for the compromise by ruling that the 450-family club had violated its own bylaws by kicking out the Parks without allowing them to present their case or appeal to the full membership.
Lee also recessed the trial for three hours yesterday and personally appealed to both sides to settle.
During the course of the battle, Gina Park, 33, an adjunct French professor at Georgetown University, was accused of grabbing the pool manager, Christine Morgan, by the arm and dragging her during one of their arguments over the swimsuit.
Rich Carter, the attorney for the 10-member swim club board, also said Park neglected her children by coming to the pool in high heels and grading papers while they swam. "She would never get in the water. It's a safety issue," he said.
But Park testified that she never touched Morgan and that she wore deck shoes with high heels. Park also said that her older daughter, Samantha, now 6, had worn the same pink suit without incident for two summers. "I obeyed the rules I read," she said.
During her testimony yesterday morning, Park alleged that a lifeguard referred to her children by using a racial slur and that the club board president told her during the swimsuit dispute, "You can tell your husband to go back where he came from."
The board president, Ed Shubert, denied ever saying anything of the kind, Carter said.
As part of the settlement, Gina Park signed a statement reading in part: "There is no basis in fact for any of the allegations I have made concerning racial discrimination. I agree to follow all directions of the pool manager."
She said in an interview, "The termination of the membership was motivated by some other animosity, but it wasn't racial."
Carter said his clients were satisfied by the settlement. "All they were looking for was an apology," Carter said. "They didn't want to be in a situation where someone didn't follow [the manager's] directions."
Gina Park was exultant. "I'm ecstatic," she said. "Reinstatement was always my goal, not money. . . . I was fighting for my kids' rights to be part of the neighborhood."
Natalia will not wear the suit again, Gina Park said. She has learned to swim well enough that she does not need it.