In 2003, the softball coach at Alhambra High School (AHS) called the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC) to talk about the girls’ softball team not being able to access the new multi-use athletic field. This conversation led to a landmark court case that was the first in California to challenge Title IX compliance at the high school level. The lawsuit highlighted the unfair treatment, unequal benefits, and reduced participation opportunities given to female athletes at AHS.
The call came after the City of Alhambra and the Alhambra Unified School District decided to spend $900,000 to build two state-of-the-art baseball diamonds that were exclusively for the boys’ baseball team and a third multi-use field that was supposed to be useable for both baseball and softball.
While the boys’ baseball program had exclusive access to brand new fields with excellent amenities, the girls’ softball teams at AHS were relegated to playing on small, non-regulation sized fields with dangerous holes in the outfield, that they had to share with year-round physical education classes and the freshman football team.
Initially, the coach and the girls were only requesting access to the new multi-use field, which they were not allowed to use because it would interfere with the boys’ baseball teams practices.
When CWLC investigated the matter, it found that having two, state-of-the-art baseball diamonds and one multi-use field for male athletes was not the same as having one dangerous and unmaintained softball field for female athletes. The new boys’ fields had amenities that the girls’ softball field lacked, including enclosed dugouts, batting cages, bullpens, foul poles, electronic scoreboards and new bleachers. The new boys’ varsity field was a fully enclosed locked facility that included a home run fence.
CWLC also discovered that the problems went beyond the disparity between the baseball and softball fields. In addition to the field issues, other issues included:
- The girls had to share one general locker room with broken toilets and showers
- The boys had access to the general physical education locker room, as well as to two other private
locker rooms and a fenced off team room with athletic sized lockers
- The girls were not allowed to use the weight room
- The girls’ basketball teams practiced in the small gym on a non-regulation sized court
- The boys’ basketball teams practiced in the large gym on the regulation sized court
- The boys’ basketball teams had better game and practice times than the girls’ basketball teams
- The boys’ athletic teams had more fundraising opportunities than the girls’ teams
The boys also had more opportunities to play sports because they had three team levels for many sports (freshman, junior varsity, and varsity), while the girls only had two (junior varsity and varsity)—despite numerous female athletes having to get cut during try-outs each year.
When the investigation was over, it was obvious boys were treated better than girls in the AHS athletic program. Four girls, AHS softball players Lauren Cruz and Valerie Herrera, AHS basketball player Jennifer Cerros, and 8th grader and potential AHS softball player Tina Grempel stepped up to the plate and sued AHS violating Title IX by discriminating against girls in the AHS athletic program. CWLC filed the class action complaint in federal court on March 4, 2004.
After more than two years of litigation, the City and School District agreed to settle the case. Every student at AHS received a class notice outlining the terms of the settlement, which included new softball fields. The judge approved the settlement agreement resolving in January 2006.
As part of the settlement, the School District agreed to build two new softball fields with the same amenities and maintenance as the boys’ baseball diamonds, and also to allow the girls to have access to the have access to the multi-use field.
In addition, some of the other changes caused by the settlement included:
- a new freshman/sophomore level girls’ softball team
- a new sophomore level girls’ basketball team
- a new coed weight room was created that is stocked with light weights
- the old weight room, stocked with heavy weights, is now coed
- equal access to the regulation sized gym for practices and games for girls’ and boys’ teams
- a new team locker room for the girls
- conversion of one of the boys’ team locker rooms into a girls’ team locker room
- equal access for girls’ teams to all fundraising opportunities previously reserved for the boys’ teams
AHS also instituted a policy requiring each athletic team to put one-third of the money that it raises into a common fund to be equally dispersed among all teams and to ensure that athletic opportunities for girls are continually expanded based on girls’ enrollment and interests.
On April 28, 2008, the plaintiffs came to the official opening of the new AHS softball facility. “These new softball diamonds are more than just places for girls to play ball,” said Plaintiff Lauren Cruz. “They are symbols of the school’s commitment to treating girls’ fairly and giving us the same respect that the boys have gotten all along. It is our right to play, and it feels good to have our rights recognized.”
To go from here:
- Alhambra High School
- West High School