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Thursday, April 05, 2007
"The Inexorable Zero" and Female Umpires in Major League Baseball
Last week, 30-year old Ria Cortesio became the first female to umpire a major league exhibition baseball game since 1989, when Pam Postema--who would later sue, and settle out of court with, Major League Baseball and Triple A baseball for sex discrimination after Triple A baseball declined to renew her contract--became the first female to ump a big league exhibition game. Based on publicly-available accounts, Cortesio did a good job umpiring an afternoon match-up between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cortesio is currently a Double-A umpire in the Southern League, where she has been for the last 5 years since starting her umpiring career at age 21, and like other minor league umpires, she was called upon to umpire one of the many spring training games on this year's schedule. No female has ever umpired a regular season big league game, just like no female has ever refereed an NFL game or officiated an NHL game (in contrast to the NBA, where two women, including Violet Palmer whom we've blogged about, are referees).
Over on Workplace Prof Blog, Ole Miss law professor Paul Secunda has an excellent post on the possible presence of sex discrimination in explaining why Major League Baseball has never hired a female umpire for a regular season game. He writes about the employment discrimination concept of "the inexorable zero," established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324 (1977). As Professor Secunda details,
[I]n pattern and practice group employment discrimination cases, courts rely on statistics to determine whether an employer has a standard operating procedure of discriminating against certain groups, like women. In such cases, when no women have been hired, as is the case with female major league umpires, "fine tuning of the statistics [do not] obscure the glaring absence of minority [employees].... [T]he company's inability to rebut the inference of discrimination came not from a misuse of statistics but from ‘the inexorable zero’"). See Teamsters, 431 U.S. 324, 342 n.23 (1977).As a result, Professor Secunda writes, even without knowing how many females have applied and were rejected by MLB for umpiring jobs--which would normally be crucial data in a sex discrimination claim--MLB
[C]annot hide the fact that [it] has not hired ONE female major league baseball umpire in its entire existence . . . based on this Slate article and other articles on this topic I have read in the press, that there are at least SOME qualified females who could be MLB umpires in the relevant labor pool, I think the inference of discrimination is appropriate here.The Slate article to which Professor Secunda refers discusses a successful lawsuit by a secretary named Bernie Gera, who in 1973 won a five-year-long lawsuit for the right to umpire a Single A game. Also, as I noted earlier, Pam Postema sued for sex discrimination after she was let go in 1991 (allegedly--according to Michelle Tsai of Slate--for too often throwing players out of games) and settled out of court.
In addition to possible legal claims, I wonder about broader social changes in how we treat women that might enable more women to obtain officiating jobs in the MLB and other pro sports leagues. Marquette law professor Scott Moss illuminates that point in his reply to Professor Secunda's post:
Another reason Paul's suspicion of gender discrimination seems valid is the blatant nature of baseball players' and officials' discrimination against the few women serving as sports reporters and baseball teams' front office officials. You hear comments like "women don't belong here" and harshly misorynistic attacks. So it's not a stretch to suspect that one reason there are so few female umpires is that same anti-women bias.So is the absence of female officials in Major League Baseball and other pro sports leagues a reflection of discrimination by MLB and those other leagues, or is it a more cultural/social problem in how we treat and regard and women? Or is it something else?