Today (March 19) in 1969 a woman filed a lawsuit against what is known today as Minor League Baseball, as the governing body refused to give her a job because of her gender.
Bernie Gera, a secretary from Jackson Heights, New York, filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball today in 1969. The baseball-crazed woman decided to become an umpire after having a dream. At one point she saw an advertisement of an umpiring school in the Sporting News. Previously she sent application letters to all MLB organizations for a job in the front office, but without any success. So with the road to a front office position closed, she decided to try her luck as an umpire.
She applied for a spot at the Al Somers School for Umpiring in West Palm Beach, Florida and was accepted. But after the school found out she was a woman, the acceptance was withdrawn. She didn’t give up and eventually, she was accepted by a non accredited school, Jim Finley’s National Sports Academy. After successfully graduated, she gained experience in several semi-pro tournaments and the YMCA industrial league.
As the NABL (MiLB since 1999) refused to give her a chance because of her height (a lame excuse for sure), Gera filed a lawsuit in 1969. The New York State Human Rights Commission pointed out that many male umpires also didn’t meet the required height but still were accepted as an umpire. Three times the Commission demanded Gera would be hired but three times the NABL (National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues) appealed. Gera filed another lawsuit and was seeking damages of $25 million. That amount made the NABL scratch its head and eventually, after five years, Gera was hired as an umpire in the New York-Penn League.
Unfortunately for her, her umpiring career would last only one game. In the first game of a doubleheader between MiLB teams from Geneva and Auburn, she worked the bases. In the fourth inning, she blew a basic call as she called a runner safe on second base while he should have been called out as part of a force out. Immediately she realized her mistake and reversed the call. The manager of the Auburn team charged the field, yelling that Gera had made two mistakes. “The first one is you put on that uniform and came here as an umpire. And the second one is you never should have the kitchen. You should stay home, peeling potatoes. Gera ejected the manager and continued the game but after the end of the game she announced her resignation and left town. Of course, the press mocked her. She was roundly criticized for leaving the game as people claimed she wasn’t able to deal with the pressure.
But in an interview with Esquire magazine later that year, she stated that her bags were packed even before the game and that the decision to quit was made the previous day during a league umpire meeting, where her colleagues made clear she wasn’t welcome.
Even though her career was short-lived, she paved to way for other women to become professional umpires. Currently, there are two female umpires in Minor League Baseball: Jen Pawol and Emma Charlesworth-Seiler. But in the past decades, there have been more female umpires of which one, Pam Postema, made it to AAA level and even called MLB games during Spring Training.
After her short-lived umpiring career, Gera became a women’s rights activist.