27 April 2015
When the parents of a girls’ softball league in Los Angeles grew tired of watching their daughters practice in the parking lots while nearby fields leased to a boys’ league sat unused, they came up with a plan: They sued.
One of the dads of the girls in the league, which provides teams for kids ages 6 to 16, worked at Mayer Brown, which took the case pro bono. He turned to litigator Elizabeth Mann (left), a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office, who told The National Law Journal that the case was compelling because it dealt with Title IX claims and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. A year later, the parties settled, and the case was dismissed on April 17. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, wrote in an emailed statement that the settlement “allows a more equitable use of the fields going forward. It took a great deal of work, but everyone came together to reach the right result.” A lawyer for the boys’ league, Keven Steinberg, of Fink & Steinberg in Los Angeles, said: “I’m glad we were able to work together to provide young kids in the community the opportunity to play baseball, both boys and girls.”
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
The National Law Journal: This case originally came to the firm through one of the dads who worked at Mayer Brown. How did you get involved?
Elizabeth Mann: Andrew Kugler is the dad of a young girl who was playing in the Encino Sherman Oaks softball league. They had been trying to resolve this disagreement they had with the boys’ league. And they’d been unable to settle it. And Andrew said to himself, ‘I bet this could use the benefit of a big firm.’ And so Andrew came to work and called me up.
NLJ: What were the main problems the girls were having?
EM: The boys had nine of the 12 fields, and of our three fields, one of them was a very small field that only girls 8 and under could play on because little kids have smaller fields. What that meant was because we had 350 girls compared to 200 boys, our girls and their moms and dads would show up, and they’d literally be warming up in the parking lot or standing on the street corners. That would be OK if the boys’ fields were currently occupied, but the boys’ fields would be empty all the time. The parents of the girls were saying, ‘Why are we warming up in the parking lot?’
NLJ: There were a lot of defendants in this case. What impact did that have?
EM: That was one of the reasons this really needed to be an equal protection and Title IX lawsuit. Encino Franklin Fields, which is what the land where these baseball and softball fields is called, is owned by the Army Corp of Engineers. What made this so compelling is the government owns the land for public purposes. But the lease between the government and the Army Corp of Engineers and Encino Franklin Fields—not surprisingly because it’s federal land—specifically says you can’t use these for discriminatory purposes and, in particular, calls out sex discrimination. We believed the government was engaged in an equal protection violation by allowing all of this to keep happening. The lessee from the government, Encino Franklin Fields and Mid Valley Youth Baseball, which were alter egos, were engaged in Title IX violations because they received federal financial assistance.
NLJ: Why did this case take a year to settle?
EM: I knew once the government lawyer got involved, this thing would probably work itself out. But a few things had to happen. Mid Valley, the boys’ league, had entered into a number of subleases. Two high school teams played there. And one of the high school teams had shut down the program. That took time to work that all out. The second thing that took time but was really helpful was Harvard-Westlake had leased a field and had their baseball and football teams practicing at the fields. Harvard-Westlake is an institution of considerable means and civil mindedness. Ultimately, they contributed their lease. Our girls’ league got this nice Harvard-Westlake field, which Harvard didn’t have to do.
NLJ: So how many fields does the girls’ league have now?
EM: We’ve got three and a half fields, including a big, beautiful field we didn’t used to have with nice bleachers and a place for moms and dads, and their pink parasols, and we’re cooperating very nicely with Mid Valley. On various afternoons, we are practicing on some of their space. The best part about this is there had been some bitterness and acrimony that developed. Now they’re cooperating and sharing and helping each other out, so it built a community back together in a healthy way.
Reprinted with permission from the April 27, 2015 edition of the National Law Journal © 2015 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.