Military family continues to pursue suit against embassy business center
SEOUL — South Korean lawyers representing an American military family suing the U.S. Embassy Association Business Center say they’ll continue to push for nearly $12,000, despite a judge’s suggestion the parties agree to a $4,000 settlement.
Marine Col. Thompson Gerke, and his wife, Catherine, want $11,054 for a March 2006 airline ticket mix-up in which they received business-class, not first-class Delta Air Lines’ seats.
During the past 16 months of battles, the contracted vendor business center agreed to close its travel service to the Yongsan Garrison base community.
Col. Gerke, who had served as deputy commander of Marine Forces Korea, left South Korea with his wife last month for a new assignment.
The family’s attorneys law firm failed to show up at a July 22 court session in front of Judge Dang U-jeung just days after the Gerke family left the peninsula.
Lee Won-gyun, chief of the firm representing the Gerkes, said a scheduling mix-up was the reason no one from his firm appeared in court. The judge set the next session for Sept. 4.
Lee said the family would have settled for the $4,000 — but that the business center decided not to cooperate.
Business center spokesman Jimmy Park said last week that the business wasn’t sure if they would settle because the last time he saw Catherine Gerke, she was sprawled out on the floor of the center screaming that “she wanted $20,000 or $30,000.”
During the July court appearance, Park blasted the woman’s actions to the judge, who ordered Park to put his complaints in writing to the court.
Park said the business center is considering countersuing the family for Catherine’s behavior, which he believes made customers uncomfortable about using the business center.
“She’s just doing ridiculous things to hurt us every way she can,” Park said.
Prior to leaving South Korea, Catherine provided Stars and Stripes with more than 140 pages of documents, including e-mail traffic with base officials, 8th Army legal opinions and the findings of Yongsan Garrison’s Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board.
The Gerkes paid the business center nearly $18,000 for what they thought were three round-trip first-class tickets to Virginia and back when Catherine’s mother died in March 2006. Catherine said she was recovering from back surgery and was following doctor’s orders that required her to lie flat during the trip. At the airport, however, the family learned they had business-class seats and paid the airline an additional $5,527 to upgrade to first class on the U.S.-bound flight.
They say the business center should pay them the cost of the upgrade had they flown first class round-trip, even though they returned to South Korea in business class. They say Army lawyers advised them they are owed $11,054 — even though they only spent $5,527 for the one-way upgrade.
Park has said business employees misread the ticket codes and poor English translation exacerbated the problem, but that they offered to pay the exact amount the Gerkes paid to upgrade their tickets.
In a recent e-mail to Stars and Stripes, Gerke said she has made contact with the office of Virginia Senator John Warner.
“The case if far from closed that’s for sure,” Gerke said.