Inspired by Class ActionAugust 20, 2008
I just finished reading Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, and it was one of the most informative and compelling books I’ve read. In a gripping narrative, the authors tell the story behind the first class action sexual harassment case Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, which set a precedent for how companies treat their employees. (The book also inspired the fictionalized movie North Country.)
Lois Jenson was one of the first women hired at the Minnesota mine in 1975. The female workers faced unbelievable sexism, hostility, and threatening behavior from their male co-workers throughout the next 17 years. Most women did not complain for fear of retaliation or losing the best paying jobs in their town. However, circumstances escalated, and Jenson and others sought legal help after their internal complaints went unheeded.
The women simply wanted a sexual harassment policy put in place and the harassment by their co-workers to end. The company adamantly refused to admit there was a problem, so their case dragged on for 10 years before the company finally settled. The women at Eveleth Mines went through an incredible amount of suffering, but their perseverance made a difference for millions of working women like me.
While Class Action authors Bingham and Gansler were honored at the Legal Advocacy Fund 25th Anniversary Dinner at the 2007 AAUW Convention, the Jenson case was not one that LAF could support because it was not an academic sexual discrimination lawsuit. But after the current LAF transitions toward supporting precedent-setting sex discrimination cases beyond academia are complete, cases such as Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Jenson will be the type of cases LAF will support.
After hearing Lily Ledbetter speak a few months ago and after reading such a compelling narrative about Lois Jenson, I better appreciate LAF’s transition; it will allow LAF to forcefully put its voice and support behind landmark, precedent-setting, worthy cases like theirs.