Sunday, June 27, 1999

Marge has a case vs. baseball




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At the risk of prolonging the Marge Schott era, and thereby perpetuating bad judgment, worse taste and a tradition of dog hair talismans, the besieged Reds owner might want to consider taking the offensive.

        Baseball has blundered. A legal avenue looms. Commissioner Bud Selig's uneven discipline of oddball owners begs the question of sexual discrimination. If Schott wants to subvert her coerced sale to Carl Lindner and Co., she might have grounds to sue.

        This is said with some reluctance, for the last thing the Cincinnati Reds need is a reprieve for Marvelous Marge. But in his failure to address offensive comments made by Atlanta owner Ted Turner and attributed to Houston owner Drayton McLane Jr., Selig has afforded Schott the opportunity to delay, and perhaps prevent, her removal from office.

        Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

        “A good lawyer could file a suit in federal court and tie this up for three years,” said one attorney eager for Schott's exit. “It wouldn't even take a good lawyer.”

        Legal opinions are divided on the merits of Schott's case. The same statutes that protect employees from sexual discrimination do not necessarily apply to employers.

        “She's in a funny position,” said former Cincinnati Mayor David Mann, whose law practice includes discrimination cases. “I guess she could claim she's selling under duress. (But) on first blush, I don't see that she has a gender discrimination suit.”

Different treatment
        Yet in the court of public opinion — another arena in which baseball must operate — Schott is already widely seen as a victim of the Old Boy Network. A telegenic attorney could make baseball squirm.

        Addressing the National Family Planning and Reproductive Association in February, Turner said Christianity is “for losers.” Asked what he would say to the Pope, Turner told a Polish joke. When Selig finally reacted two weeks later, he vowed to look into the matter personally.

        That was on March 2. Turner has yet to be fined, suspended or even censured. Absent any evidence of consistent discipline, Selig leaves us to suspect Schott was punished because she A) Is female and B) Offended the wrong minorities.

        There's more to it than that. There are also issues of Schott's mismanagement and her elaborate efforts to defraud General Motors. But baseball's public record would suggest her crimes consist entirely of her comments, and that Selig suffers from selective hearing.

        Earlier this month, Astros owner Drayton McLane was alleged to have made some controversial comments about his Hispanic customers during an appearance before a Houston advertising group. Marco Camacho, general manager of KTMD-TV, quoted McLane saying, among other things, that “it was hard to reach Hispanics because the game of baseball is strategy and skill and it's complicated.”

        Initially, McLane said Camacho's account was “absolutely not true.” Later, he claimed, it was “taken out of context.” According to the Houston Chronicle, Selig exonerated McLane based on a single telephone call, without contacting Camacho.

Distinction hasn't been made
        Schott's offensive statements may have been more numerous and more inflammatory than those of Turner and McLane, but baseball has done a poor job of making this distinction.

        “I'm sure there is some discrimination against her,” said Cincinnati attorney Paul Tobias. “I'm no fan of hers, but I've always thought they were picking on her. The question is whether there's some statute that protects victims of sexual discrimination who are non-employees.”

        Tobias, co-author of Job Rights & Survival Strategies, asked a reporter for a recess to consider the Schott question. He called back later to say he was stumped.

        “It may be that there's some claim out there that could fly,” Tobias said, “but it would take a lot of creativity.”

        It wouldn't take much creativity, however, to make it an issue. A loud lawyer goes a long way.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE