Today the ACLU of Southern California filed a class-action lawsuit, Romero v. City of Montebello, to end the City of Montebello's discriminatory allotment of more park space and time for boys' baseball leagues than for a girls' softball league. The private firm Arnold & Porter joins the ACLU as pro bono co-counsel in the case.
The case is filed on behalf of eight girls who are members of the Montebello Ponytail Girls' Softball Association, including Stephanie Romero, 14, who has played pitcher and third base in the girls' league for seven seasons and who dreams of playing on the United States Olympic Team; Jesy Wrtaza, 9, shortstop and second and third base person for four seasons, who also dreams of a college, Olympic, and professional softball career; and six other named plaintiffs who represent the 450 other girls who participate in the league, as well as countless girls who will join the league in the future.
"For years, the Ponytail girls have been forced to play softball in a single, crowded diamond at a public park side-by-side a thriving boys' baseball league. Although the Ponytails have continued to grow, their access to public playing fields has remained frozen due to the City's grossly unequal allocation of field space to girls' sports programs. This is especially remarkable given City officials' express recognition of this gender-based disparity," noted Rocio Cordoba, ACLU of Southern California staff attorney.
The Montebello Ponytail Girls' Softball Association, an all-girls softball league and part of a nationwide network of girls' Ponytail leagues, has grown rapidly over the last two decades to over 450 members ages 5 to 18. The Ponytails share Grant Rae Park, a large public playing field, with the Montebello Baseball Association, a boys' baseball league. Despite near parity in terms of size, the two leagues have starkly different levels of access to playing facilities. The Ponytails use one full-size diamond for half a year and a small T-ball diamond for six early morning weekend hours per week. The boys' league has access to three regular diamonds and the prime hours for the T-ball diamond. Boys also have pre- and post-season access to the park, while girls do not. Outside of softball season, there are no girls' athletic programs at all utilizing the park.
This inequitable scheduling system forces the Ponytails to stack their games so closely together that the players have insufficient time to warm up and cool down, thus increasing their risk of injury; forces girls' teams to travel to other cities during the months of August to January in order to play post-season games; requires girls to play games at inconvenient times, and gives the Ponytails less access to a concession stand, which is an essential fund-raising mechanism.
"Space and time are fundamental resources for athletic teams," said Cordoba, "and the resources in Montebello are allocated in a completely lopsided way. This has a profound impact on the girls as players and, ultimately, on their development as young women. Research consistently shows that participation in athletics helps girls grow up strong and healthy, both physically and psychologically. The City of Montebello is sending a clear message to its girls. Its unequal system brands girls as inferior, second-class citizens and perpetuates gender-based stereotypes that girls' athletics are somehow less deserving than boys' athletics."
Numerous studies have demonstrated that young women who participate in sports have higher levels of self-esteem, do better in school, are less likely to become pregnant while teenagers, and have fewer problems with drug abuse and eating disorders.
A similar case filed against the City of Los Angeles in 1998 resulted in "Raise the Bar," a landmark citywide program to foster girls' equal access to city sports facilities and programs.
"We need to promote equality for girls' sports throughout the country," said Cordoba. "Schools have been dealing with gender equity issues for decades thanks to Title IX, but cities, outside the scope of Title IX, haven't, for the most part, dealt with these issues as thoroughly. Girls such as the courageous Ponytails players are stepping forward to challenge the disparities they encounter. By monitoring the access cities give to girls' athletics and challenging any inequities, we will help cities understand that they, too, are obligated to treat girls fairly."