Female Ex-umpire Files Sex-discrimination Suit

Posted: December 20, 1991

A former minor-league umpire sued baseball yesterday, contending that the men who run the game condoned and encouraged an atmosphere of extreme sexual harassment in which she was repeatedly spit on and cursed, sometimes kissed, and finally fired because she was a woman.

Pam Postema, 37, who worked for 13 years as a minor-league umpire before she was released after the 1989 season, filed a sex-discrimination suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking unspecified compensation for back and future earnings, punitive damages and a job umpiring in the major leagues.

Postema charged that the baseball establishment not only knew of sexual harassment by fans, players and managers, but also encouraged the harassment as a way to keep her from becoming a big-league umpire.

"I really believe that if it wasn't for the fact that I was a woman, I'd be in the major leagues umpiring right now," Postema said yesterday from San Clemente, Calif., where she delivers packages for Federal Express.

"I have the ability," she said. "I really think they don't want women in the big leagues. I think they think it would make the game inferior. I think men want their own little sport, their own little world. It's collusion - not said out loud, but sometimes said out loud."

Postema was the fourth woman to umpire in professional baseball and the first to advance as high as triple A, one step below the majors. No women are believed to be now employed as umpires in the pros.

Jim Small, a spokesman for major-league baseball, said commissioner Fay Vincent would have nothing to say about Postema's allegations. "We don't comment on ongoing litigation," Small said.

Baseball's record on affirmative action probably will be an issue in Postema's suit. Despite a number of requests by Vincent that baseball clubs employ more minorities, 13 of 14 major-league managers hired this year are white males.

"I would think that that is certainly relevant," Postema's lawyer, John Shulman, said yesterday. "If baseball has a pattern of discriminating against people of color and there is no difference in respect to its treatment of women, then it is relevant."

The suit - which was filed against the National and American Leagues, the Baseball Office of Umpire Development, and the Triple-A Alliance, where Postema last worked - details a number of allegations of sexual harassment. They include:

* Players and managers "on numerous occasions" called Postema a four- letter slang word for female genitalia.

* Players and managers repeatedly told her that she should be cooking or cleaning instead of umpiring. One major-league pitcher, Bob Knepper of the Houston Astros, said that if Postema became a big-league umpire, it would be an affront to God and contrary to the Bible.

* Frequently she was spit upon during arguments and received more vile verbal abuse than male colleagues had to endure.

* Occasionally she was kissed on the lips by managers when they brought the starting lineup to home plate before a game. At a spring-training game in 1988, Chuck Tanner, identified in the suit as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, asked Postema if she would like a kiss along with the lineup card.

In spring training in 1988, Tanner was the manager of the Atlanta Braves.

Postema said she did what she could to fight the harassment with warnings and ejections during games, and followed that up with written reports to her superiors. She said no action was ever taken to stop the ongoing abuse.

Postema said what kept her going was her love for the game and her goal of one day umping in the big leagues. "I loved the job, the lifestyle," she said. "I was on my own. It was a job with a lot of independence. There was a lot of self-satisfaction."

The first female umpire, Bernice Gera, of Jackson Heights, N.Y., worked one game, on June 24, 1972, in single A, and quit, citing abuse and lack of support from her employer, according to Postema's suit.

Postema graduated from umpire school in 1977. She was 17th in a class of 130. Her first assignment was in the Gulf Coast rookie league, and by 1983 she had been promoted to triple-A ball in the Pacific Coast League.

She was invited to two spring trainings to umpire major-league games, which is usually seen as a tryout for a permanent or fill-in job in the American or National League.

Her accomplishments as an umpire are many, according to the suit. In 1988 and 1989, Postema was chief of her umpiring crew. In 1989, she was selected to work home plate for the first triple-A All-Star Game. And in 1989, Postema was offered a job as a supervisor of minor-league umpires in lieu of a promotion to the majors.

In her suit, Postema alleges that it didn't matter how hard she worked or how many favorable reviews she got because the system was set up to keep women out of the majors.

"There has been a longstanding prejudice against women and an agreement and understanding . . . generally tacit, but often expressly stated, that women should not be employed as umpires," the suit says.

No trial date has been set.

Postema, who has not worked as an umpire since 1989, said her job in California delivering packages had taken some getting used to.

"It's been hard for me to adjust," she said, laughing. "They tell me that the customer is always right. And in my old job, I was always right."

Postema said players and managers made clear that they didn't think a woman belonged on the baseball field.

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