The ACLU of Southern California today filed a long overdue class-action lawsuit in federal court against the city of Los Angeles and its Department of Recreation and Parks for discrimination against a girls' softball league in the San Fernando Valley [Kaitlyn Baca vs City of Los Angeles 98-2865 R(RCx)]. For 29 years, the West Valley Girls' Softball (WVGS) league, which includes more than 400 girls ages five to 18, has been denied equal access to the publicly-owned fields that are consistently made available to boys' baseball leagues.

In a first-of- its-kind challenge, the ACLU is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for violation of equal protection and gender discrimination under both state and federal constitutions and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. Plaintiffs seek a judgment to stop the city from discriminating against young women. This is the first lawsuit brought against a city or county park department for discriminatory treatment of girls in the use of public recreational facilities.

In spite of persistent attempts by the WVGS to get a permit for permanent facilities, it has been denied equal access to public parks. The girls have been forced to spend significant time and resources to secure piecemeal temporary permits to play in substandard school fields, even to the point of carrying in dirt to improve the only fields made available to them.

By contrast, not only does Recreation and Parks give the boys' leagues permanent access to smooth, safe and well-maintained park fields with bleachers, dug-outs and concession stands, it also sponsors three West Valley boys' leagues. The ACLU says the city's treatment of the girls' league is a blatant example of historical discrimination against girls' athletics that prevents girls from participating and excelling in high school and college sports, attaining educational scholarships and even aspiring to Olympic competition.

The West Valley Girls Softball League was established in 1969 as a privately-run, non-profit organizational sponsor of girls' softball. Most of the 400 members live in the West Valley communities of Woodland Hills, West Hills, Calabasas and Canoga Park. Players are grouped into four sub-divisions based on age and experience. Players compete with teams within the league. The season extends from February through June with post-season championship games and special tournaments.

Every year, since its inception 29 years ago, the League has sought and been denied a permanent recreational facility for its games commensurate with those used by the West Valley Boys' league. For that reason, each season, the girls' league must go through the laborious process of securing weekly or monthly field permits from various local facilities to get a place to practice and hold games. The girls' league is never guaranteed the use of the facilities from one year to the next. The lack of a permanent home eliminates any possibility of obtaining display advertising from companies who may wish to sponsor the girls. What's more, the poor conditions of the facilities have forced the girls and their families to take on the effort and expense of maintaining and improving the grounds. To add insult to injury, the girls' league has been denied access to the very facilities it has improved and maintained over the years.

ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum said, "The great American pastime is not only the preserve of boys. These girls love this game. This case is about an end to roving girls' leagues and getting a field of their own. The days of the girls' traveling teams are over."

The ACLU claims that the facilities made available to the boys at Adam Bishoff, Knapp Ranch, Shadow Ranch and Woodland Hills parks are better maintained and provide typical playing field amenities such as backstops, outfield fencing, dugouts, spectator bleachers, and bull pens. By comparison, the fields used by the girls offer few or none of these types of amenities, the grounds are poorly maintained and, in some instances, the conditions are unsafe.

"This case is unique, but the historic discrimination against girls and women it uncovers is prevalent and deeply rooted." said ACLU staff attorney Rocio Cordoba, "The unjust treatment suffered by these young athletes, simply because they are girls, should be an embarrassment for every person in the City of Los Angeles. Rather than supporting young women who have the talent and aspiration to succeed, City officials are sending the message that girlsunlike boys should be relegated to the bench. We all have a stake in making sure this discrimination is ended. By favoring boys and excluding girls, the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks is reinforcing the stereotype that `girls can't play like boys' or worse `girls shouldn't play like boys.' This demoralizing treatment brands girls as inferior, second-class citizens. It must end now."