School Climate & Safety

Calif. District Agrees To Allow Women To Wear Slacks

By Bess Keller — March 12, 1997 3 min read

For a year and a half, teacher Roxanne Pittman had asked to exercise a wardrobe option available to millions of American women every day. But until last week, school officials in her Southern California district skirted the issue she raised and continued to forbid pants on women teachers in three schools.

No longer. The Pomona Unified School District has agreed to suspend parts of the dress code at the three schools, allowing all female teachers and students the option of wearing slacks. The decision came after a settlement of Ms. Pittman’s lawsuit against the district late last month that allowed her to wear pants at Yorba Elementary School, where she teaches.

After the drawn-out trousers tussle, Ms. Pittman can now rest easy--as well as keep warm on the job, climb ladders to reach the top of bulletin boards without a second thought, and reduce her spending on hosiery.

“I couldn’t see a logical reason for the rule, and that added to how I felt about it,” she said. The 5th grade teacher added that because the California legislature in 1994 enacted a law guaranteeing women the right to wear pants in the workplace, she didn’t think her protest “would go this far.”

In the settlement, the 40,000-student district agreed to pay Ms. Pittman $10,000, plus lawyers’ fees.

‘Professional Attire’

The dress code Ms. Pittman challenged dates from the establishment in 1979 of three “fundamental” public schools, including Yorba Elementary, which subscribe to a back-to-basics philosophy.

Kim Pine, a spokeswoman for the Pomona district, said the schools originally emphasized strict discipline along with academic fundamentals, and a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts or dresses was part of that plan. Women teachers had also been required to wear skirts or dresses, while men teachers had to come to school in dress shirts, slacks, and ties.

In a statement following the settlement, the district said it was suspending the elements of the dress code applying to teachers. Instead, it expects that faculty members “will wear appropriate and professional attire.”

Officials for the 31,000-student district officials promised a review of the fundamental program as a whole, including dress codes for teachers and students. That review is expected to be completed by July 1.

Nancy McCracken, a Pomona school board member, said the decision to suspend rather than drop the dress code should not be seen as defending it. “The reason we are suspending it is it will give us an opportunity to hear from staff and parents and try to come up with something that is legally proper and meets the desires of staff and parents,” she said last week.

Parents from Yorba Elementary showed up at last week’s board meeting to support the dress codes for students and teachers.

New Protections Proposed

Ms. Pittman, who has taught for almost eight years and whose mother sat on the task force that designed the fundamental schools, said she took her protest first to Yorba’s principal, then to his supervisor.

When nothing happened, she went to her union, the Associated Pomona Teachers, and last July filed a lawsuit in state court, apparently the first under the 1994 law. The law says that public or private employers in California cannot bar workers from wearing pants because of their sex.

In February, Ms. Pittman turned down a settlement offer based on medical grounds that would have allowed her, but only her, to wear pants. She has lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that she says causes her to suffer from the cold.

Diane Martinez, the state assemblywoman who was the author of the pants law, said the trousers tussle has prompted her to draft two more bills.

One would punish agencies by taking away public funding if they break the law; the bill would also make agency board members personally liable for such a violation. The other proposal, known as “The Pants Bill, the Next Generation,” would keep anyone from disallowing pants on children without written parental consent.

Glenn Rothner, one of Ms. Pittman’s lawyers, called the outcome gratifying.

“If they come back and say we’re going to reinstitute the dress code as it has been, we’ll be back in court,” he said. “But I don’t think that is going to happen.”

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