Saying that local Recreation Department officials unfairly discriminate against girls' athletics, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking an immediate court order that will give the girls' softball league equal access to playing fields before the new season gets underway.
The case, Ashley Bellum et. al v. City of Grants Pass, is being brought on behalf of a group of girls who compete in the Amateur Softball Association's Grants Pass Blaze softball league.
"The ACLU is attempting to establish a new precedent by holding a municipality responsible for gender inequities in the athletic programs it sponsors," said James Dole, an ACLU cooperating attorney from Grants Pass. "Prior to this, challenges to gender inequity in sports were primarily seen in the context of high schools and colleges."
At issue is the city's failure to give the girls' softball team equal access to quality facilities at the All Sports Park in Grants Pass. The complex's six diamonds are the primary venue for practices and games of the community's four youth baseball and softball programs. The city has dedicated the two playing fields of the highest quality to the exclusive use of the two boys' baseball leagues.
This practice, the ACLU lawsuit charges, violates the Fourteenth Amendment, Oregon's constitutional guarantee that the government will not discriminate on the basis of gender, and Oregon law providing for equal access in public accommodations.
"Numerous academic studies show that girls who participate in sports have higher levels of self esteem and confidence and are less likely to experience depression than girls who do not play sports," said Rocio Corboba, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California who is co-counsel on the case and who brought a similar case in 1999 titled, Baca v. City of Los Angeles. "When placed against the backdrop of these studies the issues raised in these lawsuits represent a novel trend in the development of gender discrimination litigation which address the unequal allocation of publicly funded sports programs and facilities."
The discriminatory policy has negatively affected the girls and their families in a variety of ways, according to the ACLU complaint. For instance, while the boys' teams enjoy exclusive access to well-maintained fields, the girls of the Blaze league have been forced to share the remaining four diamonds with all the teams in the city's Little League, the local high school's varsity and junior varsity softball teams, and various community adult softball leagues.
Since practice and game times constantly change in order to accommodate the schedules of all the other leagues, teams in the Blaze league are forced to practice on weekdays late into the evening, often cutting into time set aside for home work. Games are usually scheduled on Sunday mornings, forcing spectators and players to decide between attending church services and going to the game.
"The facilities the girls have been forced to play on don't have covered bleachers, batting cages or even proper dugouts," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and co-counsel on the case. "How do we expect our daughters to grow up with a strong sense of identity when the community treats them like second-class citizens?"
The ACLU complaint seeks an immediate court ruling in the matter to prevent the city of Grants Pass from implementing a discriminatory field schedule for the girls' Spring/ Summer 2002 softball season, which started this week. The lawsuit further asks the court to order the city to provide the Blaze league with a dedicated 'home' field of comparable quality to the dedicated fields provided to the boys' baseball leagues.