Sex bias charged in Mid's appeal Expulsion was unfair, says female senior

July 30, 1996|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

A female Naval Academy senior fighting expulsion for allegedly telling a lie yesterday appealed her case to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, charging that she was singled out for unfair treatment because she is a woman.

Jennifer Della Barba, 21, denies that she lied and says in her appeal that her boyfriend, James Steidle, was allowed to graduate and become a Marine second lieutenant -- even though he told substantially the same story for which she is being expelled.

The appeal, addressed to Dalton, was delivered to the academy in care of Adm. Charles R. Larson, her commanding officer, yesterday.

The case is the latest to raise questions about the academy's treatment of women, who first were admitted 20 years ago but whose presence still is resented by some male students and officers. Women have a higher attrition rate than men at the academy, and Della Barba's expulsion would mean not a single woman graduated in her military company this year.

Della Barba initially was accused in April of sexual misconduct after a female and a male midshipmen reported that they had seen her lying on her dormitory bed with Steidle. Sexual activity is prohibited in Bancroft Hall, where all 3,400 male and 540 female midshipmen live.

That charge was dropped after Della Barba proved she had been on a field trip to Assateague Island at the time -- and that the lump in the bed beside Steidle was in fact her stuffed animals.

But she was then accused of telling a lie in the process of defending herself against the groundless sexual misconduct charge. Her accusers, three male classmates, asserted that she told them she had seen a medical officer for her ailing knee before departing for the field trip. She claims she said that she "went to see" the medical officer, but found the clinic closed.

Under academy procedures, the accusation went before an honor board of nine midshipmen, who unanimously supported the charge that she had lied. The commandant of midshipmen, Capt. William T. R. Bogle, accepted that finding and recommended that Della Barba be expelled, noting that she had two prior conduct offenses, including underage drinking.

Larson, the academy superintendent, backed Bogle's ruling and ordered her expelled from the academy. Now only Dalton can reverse the decision.

Apart from presenting the evidence she believes disproves the charge of lying, Della Barba's nine-page appeal makes two major allegations of sexual discrimination.

First, she notes that Steidle, who would have been implicated in any sexual misconduct charge, was not questioned about the charge at the time he was discovered in her bed or for many days afterward. Rather than confronting Steidle with the charge, the midshipmen making the accusation did nothing before questioning Della Barba upon her return from the shore about nine hours after the alleged offense.

Second, Della Barba points out that she would have no reason to say falsely that she actually saw the medical officer, because Steidle testified that they had gone to the clinic together and found it closed. His testimony would show they were not in bed together before she left for the field trip.

If, on the other hand, academy officials believe they never went to the clinic, then Steidle was lying, too -- and a transcript of Bogle's hearing on the case strongly indicates that he believes both fabricated the story of the visit to the medical clinic.

Yet academy officials never charged Steidle with lying. He was permitted to graduate and assigned to spend the summer training first-year students.

"This is a case of sexual discrimination, pure and simple," said Della Barba's mother, Goldie Eckl. Eckl said neither her daughter, who is preparing to leave the academy, nor Steidle wish to comment at this time.

Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman, said the allegation of sexual discrimination is "absurd."

"If he [Steidle] lied, we can't prove it," Jurkowsky said. "The honor board voted unanimously that she lied. She was judged by her peers to have lied."

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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