Indefatigable trial lawyer Abbe Fletman
has worked on Title IX matters, voting rights
cases and everything in between
BY MICHAEL Y. PARK
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUIGI CIUFFETELLI
WHEN COACH JENNIFER RIDGELY STARTED HER JOB AT
Delaware State University eight years ago, the task ahead
of her was daunting. Not only was she essentially starting a
women’s equestrian team from scratch, she was trying to grow
the historically white sport at an historic black college whose
athletics department was overwhelmingly tilted toward the
school’s mostly struggling men’s teams.
Yet a few years later, Delaware State’s equestrians had
earned a top-rate reputation, qualifying for nationals its first
year, and earning a berth in the NCAA’s Division I-AA against
schools with established and storied equestrian teams.
Ridgley’s team was one of the most successful sports teams on
the DSU campus—male or female.
So when the athletics department announced it was
eliminating the team for budget reasons in January 2010, it’s
fair to say she was surprised.
“It was heartwrenching,” Ridgely says. “I just said, ‘I promise
you my team and their parents will not go easily.’“
The athletes and their parents hired Philadelphia-based
lawyer Abbe Fletman, who has a reputation for taking on, and
winning, cases on behalf of female athletes. Soon enough,
Fletman invited Ridgely—who, as a member of the faculty, had
to remain on the sidelines for the lawsuit—to her office. She sat
and listened as Ridgely explained what had happened, then
looked the coach in the eyes.
“You’re going to be OK,” she said. “They broke the law, and
you’re going to be OK.”