A League - and a Field - of their Own: ACLU Wins Equality for Girls' Softball League in Oregon

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
November 20, 2003 12:00 am

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GRANTS PASS, OR- The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the settlement of a groundbreaking lawsuit that allows a girls’ community softball team to have equal access to city playing fields. The agreement will provide a dedicated playing field for senior girls’ softball in the city’s main outdoor sports complex and enable the girls’ league to host at least two tournaments annually.

“We are delighted that girls in Grants Pass will now have equal athletic opportunities and we hope that other cities and towns across the country will follow this example,” said Emily Martin, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

“This lawsuit was part of an ACLU initiative to extend gender equity in sports from high schools and colleges to municipalities,” she added. “In recent decades, enforcement of federal law has increased equity for female athletes in the context of school athletic programs. But there are still sharp disparities in community sports programs across the country.”

The Oregon lawsuit, Bellum v. Grants Pass, was filed by the ACLU in April 2002 on behalf of a group of girls age 8-18 who compete in the Amateur Softball Association’s Grants Pass Blaze softball league. The city had dedicated two high-quality fields to the exclusive use of two boys’ baseball leagues, forcing the girls of the Blaze league to share remaining playing fields with all the teams in the city’s Little League, as well as with the local high school’s varsity softball teams and community adult leagues.

The ACLU lawsuit charged that the city’s athletic policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as a state constitutional guarantee of gender equality and the state public accommodations law. The city denied that it discriminated and the case settled prior to any court determination.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city will improve the girls’ playing field and install new fencing, additional seating, a batting cage with storage, bullpens and other facilities available on the boy’s diamonds. These improvements will make it possible for the girls to raise funds for equipment and trips by selling advertising on field fences and through concession stand sales.

“We are especially pleased at the community’s positive response to this case,” said Oregon ACLU Executive Director David Fidanque. “The high school has voluntarily created a girls’ softball field in recognition of the need for gender equality throughout the community.”

The settlement was mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin, who commended all of the groups for working within the structure of mediation to resolve the lawsuit. A team of lawyers from the National ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Southern California assisted local Oregon ACLU volunteer attorney James Dole in representing the plaintiffs.

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