Saturday, October 29, 2005

Where Did Saturday Go?

Today was a beautiful fall day--and I spent most of it working on my manuscript. I was so anxious to be outdoors that I decided to carry my laptop out to the backyard to work. It was wonderful. I don't know if it was the gorgeous day, or if I was just hitting on all cylinders, but I got quite a bit done.

Went to see the new film, "North Country," this evening. Thought it was very powerful with terrific performances by Charlize Theron, Sissy Spacek and Frances McDormand. I will admit I was a tiny bit disappointed in the third act.

The director took plenty of time to lead up to what should have been a climatic courtroom scene. At the last minute, it turned into a cliche. Been there, done that.

The film was powerful enough that I came home to look up the true facts of the fictionalized story. Warning: Stop reading if you don't want to know the real story. I've relied heavily on two websites (SexualHarassmentSupport.org and FindLaw.com) for the following information.

In 1974, the federal government mandated that steel companies had to dedicate 20% of their jobs to women and minorities. The original workforce had strong negative feelings about the subsequent loss of jobs. Lois Jenson, a single mother, was one of the first new hires in the Eveleth iron mine in northern Minnesota in 1975. She endured horrendous abuse at the hands of her co-workers before finally filing a complaint in 1984. Jenson also experienced enormous difficulty in finding a lawyer to take her case. In 1991, the case became the first class action lawsuit for sexual harassment.

The defendant's counsel used a "nuts and sluts" approach--trying to prove that the plaintiffs were either crazy (made the whole thing up) or promiscuous (and therefore deserving of the treatment they received). The three plaintiffs endured nearly 80 days of cross-examination of both their personal lives and sexual history (Just typing that line gives me goosebumps and tears).

There were three trials in this case (more women eventually joined the plaintiffs) and Judge Donald Lay later wrote: "The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable."

CLASS ACTION, the book on which this film is loosely based (by Clara Bingham and L.L. Gansler), says: "litigation could have been avoided . . . if Eveleth [Mines] had been responsive to the women's complaints and taken corrective measures to rectify the situation and protect its employees."

In l998, the women settled with Eveleth for 3.5 million dollars. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. impacted all U.S. companies from that point forward and changed the legal landscape in America.

As a woman, I am grateful for the perseverance Lois Jenson and her co-plaintiffs exhibited in the face of tremendous pressure and prejudice.

2 comments:

Sherrill Quinn said...

I haven't seen the film, but as a professional in Human Resources I read case studies all the time about work-place harassment. It continues to astound me how incredibly stupid people can be when it comes to interacting with their fellow human beings. Who cares what color your skin is? Or whether you have breasts? Or that you're approaching retirement age? The case studies show that, even today, even after landmark cases like the ones this movie portrayed (and look how unbelievably long it took for these women to see justice done!) companies still allow this kind of crap to take place.

Women have come a long way in the workplace, and they've got a long way to go, especially in blue-collar jobs. Some jobs will always be seen as "men'w work" and some men will always think they're better than women.

They should take it up with God. I bet She'd set 'em straight. (grin)

SQ

Maya said...

Sherrill: I was bowled over by the tremendous courage shown by Lois Jenson--who, contrary to the film, continued to work at the mine for years while pursuing her case. According to an interview with Clara Bingham, one of the authors of CLASS ACTION, people would not even get on the same elevator as Jenson at work. She was shunned in the community as well as at work.

Bingham said: "When the mines were forced to hire women . . . it not only threatened some men's sense of economic security, but it also changed the social structure of the community because it challenged basic assumptions about the role of men and women."