Galveston Yacht Club manager used racist slurs, harassed black customers, claims lawsuit

A Houston nurse is suing a Galveston yacht club in federal court alleging that the club manager repeatedly harassed her and her friends and used racist slurs.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Texas last fall, also claims that several yacht club employees confirmed that the manager frequently used racial terms and defiantly defended himself using the N word.

Monica Winn, a registered nurse who works in home health care and lives in Brazoria County, purchased a yacht club membership in July 2020 from Goin ‘Coastal LLC, which operates as Freedom Boat. Club based in Galveston. Membership allowed Winn to use any boat at the Galveston location four times a year.

Winn, who is black, claims manager David Hearne treated her differently from the white members, berating her and her guests for drinking alcohol on her boat and aggressively questioning her boyfriend. After learning that Winn had contacted head office to complain, Hearne conspired to make up a story that Winn had disobeyed club rules, calling her a “nigger” and the N word, depending on the costume.

“On several occasions Mr. Hearne made us (feel) very different from other guests,” Winn said at a press conference in Houston on Friday. “He belittled the guests, belittled me myself. And when I tried to talk to him, he cursed and yelled at me. The staff (at the yacht club) told me he called me the ‘N-word’.

The Brunswick Corporation, an Illinois-based company that owned the Freedom Boat Club, is named as a defendant along with the yacht club. Carolyn Russell, the attorney for the Houston-based company, declined to comment on Winn’s claims. Federal Court records show the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which is currently pending.

In February, the yacht club announced a restructuring, saying it is now owned and operated by the Freedom Boat Club franchise. The new management has terminated Hearne, according to Randall Kallinen, Winn’s attorney. Scott Ward, the new vice president and general manager of Freedom Boat Club Corporate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“They’re under new management, the company offices have taken over, and we’re delighted with that, but we’re not happy that it took so much effort,” Kallinen said. “We want African Americans and minorities to be treated properly, now.”

Hearne’s harassment against Winn began on September 7, according to the lawsuit. Winn booked a pontoon that afternoon with seven guests, with two more guest schedules to arrive later. When she showed up at the Galveston Wharf, Hearne was not there, but when they returned from their boat trip to pick up the two late guests, he was waiting.

Winn alleges that Hearne approached the ship and stood outside the pontoon boat so that no one could leave or board. He became “very aggressive” with one of Winn’s guests, scolding and condescending him for having alcohol on the boat, which is not against club rules, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Hearne challenged Winn’s guest, who is black, holding a beer in his hand at the marina, with Winn noting that many white customers at the marina also held alcoholic drinks. Hearne insisted that Winn’s boat be taken on by the coast guard and demanded that her boyfriend, who is also black and was driving the boat, overhaul the ship’s safety features.

“He spoke with (us) and he called my (boyfriend) ‘Boy,’ Winn said.

Winn contacted the Florida-based Freedom Boat Club headquarters to complain. The lawsuit alleges that the yacht club “does not have the proper training and policies to prevent racial discrimination against members of the Freedom Boat Club”. The club asked Winn to use the Freedom Boat Club in Houston rather than the one in Galveston, where Hearne worked.

After Hearne learned of Winn’s complaints, he conspired to make up a story that she disobeyed club rules and called her a “nigger,” according to the lawsuit. Hearne told one of his employees that he didn’t want “these gangbangers and scum on his boats.”

Several Freedom Boat Club employees later told Winn that Hearne “is a racist and frequently uses the N word”, according to the lawsuit, and that he likely harassed her because she is black.

Employees told Winn that prior to his meeting with Hearne, a group of black boaters left a bag of clothes on a boat, which he called “stinky shit (N-word).” Another time, when confronted for using the N word, Hearne, who was officially working as a paramedic, said, “I pumped on Negros chest for 32 years. If anyone can say that word, it’s me, ”according to the costume.

“(The boat club employees) were just appalled at what was going on, because they were just amazed that this man was so blatantly racist,” Winn said.

Winn seeks damages in the trial, as well as a jury trial.

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