Girls in Little League

On this date in 1974, with a one-sentence summary affirmance of the Appellate Division, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Little League Baseball, Inc. had to admit girls aged eight to twelve to participate in its baseball programs in New Jersey.  National Org. of Women v. Little League Baseball, Inc., 67 N.J. 320 (1974).  In a 2-1 decision, the Appellate Division had affirmed an order issued by a hearing officer at the Division on Civil Rights (“Division”) that had concluded that Little League had violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., by excluding girls.  The hearing officer determined that Little League was a “place of public accommodation” that could not bar girls.   

Little League appealed to the Appellate Division.  That court upheld the Division.  Though Little League was not a fixed “place,” it was a “place of public accommodation” since it invited children in the community at large to participate and uses ball fields and other facilities that are open to the public and often made available to Little League by public bodies without charge.  Nor did Little League fall within the statutory exception for a place of public accommodation that is “in its nature reasonably restricted exclusively to individuals of one sex.”  That exception, the majority found, related largely to facilities or activities that require the changing of clothes at those places, while in Little League, “changing of clothing for play or after play invariably takes place at home.”  Finally, the majority rejected Little League’s argument that since Congress had chartered Little League, federal pre-emption barred the Division’s position.

A number of legal luminaries had some part in this saga.  Judge Milton Conford, who spent a signficant amount of time temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court, wrote the majority opinion for the Appellate Division.  The member of the majority was Judge Alan Handler, who went on to serve with distinction on the Supreme Court.  Judge Curtis Meanor, who later became a federal district judge, authored the dissent.  And the Division’s hearing officer who blazed this new trail for New Jersey girls was none other than Sylvia Pressler, who thereafter became a judge and ultimately rose to be Presiding Judge of the Appellate Division and the writer of the authoritative commentary on the New Jersey Court Rules.