An elucidating study of landmark sex-discrimination cases waged in the wake of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
A Brooklyn-based senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, Thomas presents 10 cases that illustrate the early efforts by working women to find some equality and justice in the workplace, from being hired in jobs once the exclusive domain of men to protection from sexual harassment and from discrimination for pregnancy. A cadre of crusading attorneys and frustrated working women challenged the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency endowed by Title VII to enforce the statute—which included an amendment against sex discrimination almost as a risible afterthought—over many decades after the law’s 1964 enactment, paving the way for the advances of working women today. Each case took years and moved all the way up to the Supreme Court. In 1966, receptionist Ida Phillips was outraged at being refused employment at missile manufacturer Martin Marietta in Orlando, Florida, for having preschool-age children and sought help from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Her case (Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corporation, 1971) would be the first time the court would consider the meaning of Title VII’s “because of sex” provision. In 1975, Brenda Mieth and Dianne Rawlinson challenged Montgomery, Alabama’s official restrictions against hiring women as state troopers and prison guards (Dothard v. Rawlinson, 1977), and Mechelle Vinson’s attempts to stop the hostile treatment by her supervisor at a Washington, D.C., bank became a groundbreaking case against sexual harassment in the workplace (Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 1986). In the late 1980s, women workers at a Vermont car-battery manufacturer challenged the company’s official “fetal protection” policy, which essentially relegated women to lower-paying jobs (International Union, United Auto Workers v. Johnson Controls, 1991). Thomas takes the cases one by one, delivering an eye-opening reference for lay readers.
Although the author’s well-delineated examples will ring outrageous to modern-day ears, she reminds us how much there is still to be achieved.