Baldwin softball will get new field
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The governor's office yesterday released more than $1 million to build a new softball field on the campus of Baldwin High School on Maui as part of an out-of-court settlement reached in a gender equity lawsuit.
The agreement was announced yesterday in U.S. District Court and ends a lawsuit filed by three members of the Baldwin softball team who alleged they were forced to practice and play at a sub-standard field while the baseball team played at a "beautifully manicured" field at Iron Maehara Stadium. The lawsuit accused the state and Maui County of violating the girls' rights under the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, also known as Title IX.
The lawsuit was filed by players Trisha Nobriga, Tayler Shimizu, Julia Kinoshita, their parents and coach Joe Duran. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i and the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing. The settlement also calls for the state to pay the plaintiffs' lawyers $75,000 in attorneys fees.
On March 19, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that there was an "obvious disparity" in the boys' and girls' athletic facilities at Baldwin High that violated federal law. Ezra granted a preliminary injunction and ordered the state and county to fix the field that the girls play on and address the differences in quality of facilities.
But Ezra also ordered the parties to meet with U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang to mediate their differences. Ezra yesterday applauded the efforts of the parties during "very intensive discussions" that resulted in a "perfectly appropriate" settlement.
Ezra said the settlement will ensure that the Baldwin High School girls' program will receive the "same serious attention and financial support for which it is entitled." He also said the lawsuit and agreement should serve as a wakeup call that agencies have an obligation to ensure equality in "all situations of public accommodations."
The judge yesterday accepted the settlement and withdrew the preliminary injunction. He also praised the three players because he said it "took a great deal of courage for them to stand up for what they believed was right."
State Deputy Attorney General John Cregor said that the new stadium at Baldwin High should be completed in time for the 2012 softball season. In the meantime, league games next year will be played at Maui High's Patsy Mink stadium.
Mink represented Hawai'i as a U.S. representative for 24 years and died in 2002 at age 74.
The field that Baldwin currently uses is operated by Maui County. Cheryl Tipton, Maui County deputy corporation counsel, said the county has made many improvements to the field over the past three weeks to the satisfaction of the team. She said workers have filled a depression, fixed the pitching area, swept small stones from the field and will build a storage facility closer to the field and away from a men's comfort station.
'VERY, VERY PLEASED'
All of the parties said they were pleased that an agreement could be reached in such a short time.
"The settlement really advances the whole situation at Baldwin High School and Maui in general," Cregor said.
ACLU lawyer Daniel Gluck said he was "very, very pleased with the results." He agreed with Ezra that the settlement will help to ensure gender equity in athletics throughout the state.
Gluck said the three players also were "very excited" with the settlement. He said there was a concern that they may have faced retaliation for filing the lawsuit, but Gluck said that didn't happen.
"As far as I know, everyone has been very supportive of the girls' efforts," Gluck said. "I know that was certainly a concern that the girls had. It was a concern that the parents had. But the community has been, as a whole, very supportive of them."
Baldwin has won the past three Maui Interscholastic League championships and the 2007 state title.