Two dynamos of women’s rights law crashed through the glass ceiling—part 1
Marcia Greenberger, the founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center and Judy Lichtman, president emeritus and senior advisor at the National Partnership, join NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg for a look at how far women have come and the work ahead in the women’s rights movement.
Two dynamos of women’s rights law crashed through the glass ceiling - part 1
Sally: I’m Sally Greenberg. I’m Executive Director of the National Consumers League. Our guests are Judy Lichtman and Marcia Greenberger, both of whom are pioneers who use their legal degrees and organizations to challenge laws that were discriminatory toward women in the fields of education, employment, health, the military, insurance and credit, and so many other areas. The work of these two women, legal pioneers is of interest to the National Consumers League because NCL leaders were also social reform pioneers. NCL was founded in 1899 by women labor reformers and run primarily by women for the last 120 years. We were focused then, as we are today, on legislation and litigation on behalf of women workers for better wages and benefits, including minimum wages and maximum hours laws. So let’s start with a brief introduction of both of our guests. For 40 years, Judy Lichtman served as president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, stepping down in 2004. She earned her law degree at the University of Wisconsin, worked for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, the Urban Coalition, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and she was legal adviser to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
In 1974, Judy became the executive director and first paid staff person for the Women’s Legal Defense Fund. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund became the National Partnership for Women and Families in 1998. And under Judy’s leadership, with other like-minded reform organizations, the partnership worked very early on to reverse a Supreme Court decision in General Electric versus Gilbert, which I’d like Judy to talk about in a moment, and that resulted in Congress enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. And I worked in Congress in those days. We could not believe that The Gilbert decision was a reality. It was absurd on its face. The partnership is also well known for having headed a campaign to enact landmark law, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and in 1996, the partnership helped shape key provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. It makes it easier for women and their families to get and keep health coverage. President Clinton called Judy Lichtman a remarkable national treasure, and Washingtonian magazine identified her as one of Washington, DC’s most powerful women and Washingtonian of the Year in 1986.
In 1972, moving on to our next guest, in what was to become a stellar career in fighting discrimination against women, Marcia Greenberger became the first full-time legal advocate for women’s rights in the District of Columbia when she launched the Women’s Rights Project at the Center for Law and Social Policy or CLASP. If I get my dates wrong, Marcia, you’ll correct me.
Marcia: I will.
Sally: I might have. Marcia was also a co-founder and for 40 years served as co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. Marcia Greenberger is a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, working for four decades to advance women’s rights through research, litigation and legislation. She served as counsel on the landmark litigation concerning Title IX. Did I get the name right?
Marcia: Usually, people call a Title IX but it was Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1972.
Sally: Marcia was instrumental in the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. And Marcia, I just want to note that you and Florence Kelly, who is NCL’s first leader, have something in common. She was also from Philadelphia. Her father was a congressman from Philadelphia. He was an abolitionist, and he was one of the founding members of the Republican Party with Abraham Lincoln.
Marcia: Oh my god. Good to know.
Sally: Those are her roots. Okay, so may I start our discussion by reflecting on the era in which you both grew up? An era that was marked by sexist assumptions about women’s education, work and family obligations. Judy, talk about the landscape that you faced both as a college student and as a law student. You ultimately decided to go to law school after considering getting a PhD and becoming a professor. I think that’s true for you as well, Marcia, but talk about the landscape and what led you to your first position that Judge – was it Judge Kessler? Gladys, was she a judge back then?
Sally: Just Gladys Kessler convinced you to go work with the women’s Legal Defense Fund.
Judy: Okay. I’ll try not to leave you too long in the 60s and bring you up to more contemporary time in a hurry. I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, headed to do what was then a rather non-traditional thing. I was thinking about getting a PhD in American political theory and went to my then undergraduate con law professor, an extraordinary woman named Shirley Abrahamson, who just, maybe last week, stepped down as Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who then was a young lawyer teaching these undergraduates in the political science department. When I went to her for a reference to apply for graduate school, she had gotten to know me a little bit first semester con law and by then in second semester, she said, “Look, I think an academic degree is just much too academic for you. What you really need to do is think about law school.” So I went from thinking about a rather non-traditional choice for a woman in the fall of 61, to the spring of 62, suddenly wrapping my head around applying to law school. I will say my very, very supportive parents who were very, very interested in me getting a graduate degree, were petrified. Not non-supportive, but just scared stiff that I was going to try something like law school and the trade-off was that I would go, in the summer of 62 when I graduated undergraduate school, and get 18 credits in education so that I could teach high school American history in case law school didn’t work out. So I suppose someday I could go back to Wisconsin and teach high school American history which might be a lot of fun in my retirement years.
Sally: What were they afraid of?
Judy: They were afraid that I was going to be a big flop. That this endeavor just wasn’t going to work out and I wouldn’t be employable. They were very supportive of the idea of their daughter being economically independent and they didn’t have a lot of financial resources themselves. They were not rich people, they were working people and they thought, “Oh my god, we’re going to help invest” not very much money because it was a state institution, but it was a lot of money for them to help me and that it wouldn’t work out and so they needed a fallback. They needed a plan B in case I really couldn’t make it in law school and then at least I could be a teacher.
Sally: Now why would they have been afraid that you, Judy Lichtman, at the time your last name was…
Sally: …Given all of your skills and abilities that you would not make [it]. Was it because the–
Judy: Because girls didn’t go to law school. It was just pure and simple. If girls didn’t get graduate degrees in American political theory, they sure as hell didn’t, in their world, get law degrees. And indeed, when I started in my class of 150, there were two girls. So for them having no experience, neither of my parents graduated from high school, they both got GED degrees. They had dropped out of high school to help support their respective families as very young people. To them, it was a big risk. What if this girl with great ambition, which they supported, what if it didn’t work out?
Sally: Did either one of you have women lawyers who you knew were practicing law at the time, who you respected and knew?
Judy: I had Shirley Abrahamson, who was in every way–
Sally: She was a lawyer?
Judy: Yes, she was a lawyer.
Sally: Oh, she was also a lawyer.
Judy: She was a lawyer and then went for many decades on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but she in every way, not only suggested I go to law school, but continued to be a mentor to me, and without her, I would have never in a million years thought of it as a realistic idea.
Sally: And Marcia, you had an alternative story, but it’s similar in many ways.
Marcia: In many ways similar and interestingly so, I also grew up in my case in Philadelphia, with a family with that had limited means. They believed in education for me and my two sisters very strongly and that we should each go to college and be economically independent. And to them, that meant teaching, which was one of the traditional jobs open to women at the time. I went to the University of Pennsylvania as an undergrad, and they did not offer actual teaching credits that counted towards a liberal arts degree, but it was important to me, as well as my parents, that I get those extra credits in case I was going to be teaching in high school, which was what I suspected would be what I would end up doing. And so I too, went over the summer while I was in college to get these extra class credits in teaching so that I could qualify to teach in this instance in Pennsylvania rather than Wisconsin. I was a history major…
Judy: As was I.
Marcia: …At the University of Pennsylvania at the time, and I graduated in 1967 as a history major. I did not have one woman as a professor in any of my liberal arts classes. There was one young woman who was a teaching assistant and that was it. So there was no role model in terms of getting a PhD in teaching at higher education. So I’m a little bit after Judy in time, but my experience of going and thinking about getting a PhD in teaching in history, which was what I really thought I wanted to do, was as non-traditional for me as it was for her. But I had a very different experience in terms of the mentoring.
At the time, the chair of the history department was also my advisor and I took a senior writing thesis class with him and he also was basically supervising the undergraduate writing thesis that I did. So he was quite important to me, and I had a very good relationship with him, and I knew him well and he advised me from the bottom of his heart, that getting a PhD would be a big mistake. So in contrast to Shirley Abrahamson, he was telling me that it would be a big mistake because it would take probably six years or so to get that PhD. By the time I finished the coursework, and I did a thesis, I would get married and have children long before that. I’d never finish it and if I didn’t get the PhD, I’d end up with a master’s degree and I would be able to teach in high school with a master’s degree, which I could do without ever going for the PhD to begin with. So he thought that that would be a fool’s errand on my part. I was very upset that he told me that although at the time, I was entirely convinced and I am to this day, that he thought he was acting in my best interest in advising me as best he could. So I did apply for two history graduate programs, and I did well in the acceptances so I have to presume he wrote good references for me despite his second thoughts about whether it was a good career path for me.
In terms of knowing women lawyers, when I was in college, I knew no lawyers. There were no lawyers who were friends with my family, let alone women lawyers. I had two girlfriends that were in college with me and they decided that they were going to go to law school and they thought that would be a great thing for me to do as well. And so they talked me into going and taking the law boards and thinking about law school. So I thought to myself, “First of all, law school is three years, not six. Secondly, you take exams, you don’t have to write this elaborate dissertation, which I may never finish. And I know how to take exams and I could also work during the summers, which would be very helpful because my family didn’t have much in the way of resources to help me through law school either.” And so it sounded like a practical thing to do. It also was very intriguing to me, not because I had any great idea of what practicing law was all about. I absolutely did not. But I graduated from high school in 1963 and I was really becoming politically aware during the Kennedy administration. And I just couldn’t imagine anything more glamorous than going and getting involved in government and public policy as a result of what I was seeing on TV, in the magazines and everybody talking about Camelot and the Kennedy administration. But I’d always thought going through high school and college, that that was not really practical, that coming to Washington was entirely impractical. And as somebody who grew up in Philadelphia, I lived very close to Atlantic City on the Jersey Shore and over Labor Day there is a Miss America Pageant. That was a very big thing growing up in Philadelphia and to me becoming Miss America and going to work in public policy in Washington were equally as probable.
Sally: Was this the Bess Myerson era?
Marcia: It was. As a Jewish family and Bess Myerson became the first…
Sally: She may be the only Jewish Miss America.
Judy: Yes, she was.
Marcia: But certainly, if you were Jewish, you knew about Bess Myerson and these were the dreams and the aspirations that I never thought would ever pan out.
Sally: Wasn’t she working with Mayor Koch on consumer protection issues?
Judy: She was. She did.
Marcia: Yes, she did.
Sally: Okay. So you had a good role model in Bess Myerson even if it was a…
Marcia: Miss America per se
Sally: …Misogynist undertaking. At least we saw one Jewish girl make it big.
Marcia: Well, you know the other thing that’s interesting about the Miss America pageant is for many years, that was the greatest source of scholarships for women to college. So while you might think of it as misogynist, and needless to say much of it was, there was a very practical reason for these young women to participate and it had to do with the practicalities of those college scholarships.
Sally: Oh, my goodness. Now, you were confronted by some young men who were angry at you when you applied to or at least were preparing for the LSAT, the law boards?
Marcia: Yes. Well, I graduated from college in 1967 and that was a period when the Vietnam War was raging. During that time, there was a draft and many young men were drafted, who basically were lower income. Middle income and higher income young men figured out ways that they could avoid the draft and avoid going to Vietnam in large numbers. Of course, there were some who did go, but many did not. So going to graduate school or to law school would be a deferment for the Vietnam War. So I went to take the law boards with my two girlfriends, and we, of course, are nervous wrecks walking in to take those boards. And we are confronted by these guys who start yelling at us, “What are you doing here? Why are you taking these? You’re going to take the seat from three people in law school who are going to be sent to Vietnam and could die because of you.” And that was, needless to say, a very shocking confrontation to have to deal with, as we were about to take these law boards. But thank goodness we had each other and we did go in and we did take those law boards. All three of us went to law school, all three of us finished, all three of us practiced law for many years.
Sally: Let’s talk for a moment about law school then I want to get to each of your organizations. So you were two of 150.
Sally: Were their quotas for women? You were 10 of how many?
Marcia: About a little under 250 when our class began.
Sally: Which meant you stood out like a sore thumb.
Judy: We sure did.
Sally: Were there quotas? Were you treated differently as female law students in those days?
Judy: So the truth is, as of this moment, I have no idea if there was a quota that operated as a real bar. We certainly know at the time at private university law schools and college law schools, there were quotas, not only for women but people of color and certainly for Jews. But it was very easy to get into the University of Wisconsin law school. If you got a rather mediocre grade from the Madison campus of a B, you didn’t have to take the LSATs. The LSATs were sort of just coming online. It wasn’t a requirement everywhere the way it is in most places today. And so clearly, there were more than just two of us that had B averages from the Madison campus – if you had a B average from somewhere else in the university constellation, that wouldn’t count. You automatically got admitted to the law school. And indeed, I recently found my law school admissions and it was about as cold and dry as can be. I wonder if that was the case for everybody. And it said it was subject to me getting a BA degree and so one has to think that not everybody had Shirley Abrahamson. Not everybody had mentors. Not every woman had somebody, a woman, who said, “I think you are such an activist…” – I was very involved in civil rights on the campus – “…that I think that a law degree is exactly the kind of tool that you need to enhance and enable you to be a really, really wonderful professional advocate.” If you didn’t have a Shirley Abrahamson, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to you that you could be successful in law school.
Sally: Let me move you to your beginnings at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund. So a woman who was to go on and become a very well-known federal judge, Gladys Kessler, suggested to you that you be the first paid staff at this nascent organization that was at that point, a volunteer. Will you talk about that?
Judy: Sure, I will. Well, the organization was founded in 1971 by Gladys and a bunch of her friends who I’m happy to say, remain close friends of Marcia’s and mine today, and their idea was to form an organization, not unlike the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, that would use legal strategies to fight gender bias in the law. They modeled it after the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and in some case as well, the ACLU. They had grown up themselves as young lawyer professionals knowing and understanding the effectiveness of these legal groups in fighting discrimination and they wanted to form an organization that would fight gender bias. From 71 to 74, they operated as you suggested, with volunteers. In 1973, an extraordinary woman, Brooksley Born, gave a speech to the Junior League of Washington, DC and the speech, I still have it and I’m happy to show it to people, is called the “Jury Sex Discrimination”. It is a speech that documents all the ways that the law requires sex discrimination, not just permits it, but requires it. The wonderful story of Brooksley is that she went on for decades to be the chair of the board of the National Women’s Law Center.
At the time, in 1973 when she gave this speech, the Junior League women were so incensed by what Brooksley told them, they asked what could they do. And Brooksley said, “You can give money to the Women’s Legal Defense Fund” and it was the $30,000 seed money grant that for the first time, allowed the Women’s Legal Defense Fund to have a hired person, a lawyer, me, to work on sex discrimination issues. And that seed money grant allowed the Women’s Legal Defense Fund to pay me $15,000. The theory was I was working part-time. I had a little baby, a two-year-old and so I only wanted you to work three days a week and the only thing part-time, my husband will tell you about it, was my salary. And then $10,000 for an assistant and $5,000 to run the office and by the end of the year, I had run out of money. I had never fundraised for anything in my life. And I love this brand new job and these new issues and I was just empowered to be working on women’s issues and sex discrimination that I forgot that you have to raise money to keep this going. Gladys’ pitch to me in the spring of 1974 when I said to her, “I really didn’t think I was all that interested. I was very interested in working on race discrimination and most, especially in school desegregation.” Her argument was that the nexus between poverty and race and gender were inextricably linked and that if I worked on women’s issues, I was indeed working on the issues of poverty and race discrimination. So if you think that the 21st century has invented intersectionality, you have to think about Gladys Kessler.
Sally: And Marcia, you started at CLASP and it was a women’s rights project of another organization. And you’ve talked about that in some of your other interviews, but you said CLASP itself had sex discrimination issues.
Marcia: Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, in fact. What happened really was the Center for Law and Social Policy, CLASP, was started in 1969 so it is actually celebrating an anniversary this year as well. It was one of the first public interest law firms in the country. And it was borrowing on the notion that the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the like, had developed, that to provide legal advocacy couldn’t be a charitable tax-exempt enterprise in and of itself because our whole justice system is based on the principle that they are competing sides that are represented, and a neutral factfinder usually a judge, figures out where the truth and the justice lies and where the law would lead you. But it was turning out, whether it was environmental issues or consumer protection issues as two big examples, that the big corporations would have the economic wherewithal to hire lawyers to press their case, consumers who wanted safe products to use and safe food to eat, the public who wanted clear skies and safe water to drink. Each individual member of the public didn’t have the economic imperative and wherewithal to hire a lawyer. So the driving force of the Center for Law and Social Policy was to provide that kind of representation.
Sally: And it was one of the first public interest lawyers… enterprises.
Marcia: Law firms in the country. There was one in Washington, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and one in San Francisco as well called Public Advocates. And the Ford Foundation at the time, was intrigued with this idea and agreed to provide funding for each of these really quite innovative new organizations. Four brilliant young guys founded the Center for Law and Social Policy and it had administrative staff [and] as we’ve talked about in those days, there were traditional career paths for women. Teaching was one that we were each considering, and another was to be in administration, to be a secretary, to do administrative support work. There were brilliant young women who were on the administrative support staff of the Center for Law and Social Policy, also to get the Center for Law and Social Policy going and to provide more resources, it offered a semester of credit for young law students from five different law schools around the country. They would come and work on the Center matters and get credit from their law schools and so there were some young men but also some young women law students at the Center for Law and Social Policy at the time.
In 1972, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had begun to litigate her cases that went to the Supreme Court. Also, in 1972, Bella Abzug and some of the other women in Congress started to press for some laws that would prohibit sex discrimination in different areas. And so these young women law students and these young women administrative support staff had a revolt, which we like to call it. I don’t think they had to press all that hard, but they had a list of four demands for those young male lawyers who had now grown in size and number. So they wanted women lawyers hired and as was true at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Pennsylvania and many other parts of the country, there weren’t going to be that many women lawyers naturally applying. So I don’t know that the Center was refusing to hire women, but they were going to have to really go out and look to hire women lawyers. So that was demand number one. Demand number two was [to] start a women’s rights project. So along with the consumer protection issues and the environmental protection issues and some of the other issues that the Center was working on, it should add a project on women’s rights. And a third demand was to pay the administrative support staff more than they were getting paid and they did a quite sophisticated memo about why because that was a traditional women’s job, it was getting paid less than it should. And the fourth demand was no serving coffee. So with those four demands, which those founding, male lawyers accepted, they went about looking and considering starting a women’s rights project and the administrative support staff and the women law students wanted to interview the lawyers who would come to start the Women’s Rights Project so I did apply. I was working at a law firm at the time and I remember meeting with them and thinking that this would be exciting and wonderful. So while I could have been one of the women lawyers to work on other areas at the Center for Law and Social Policy, I thought the chance to start a women’s rights project was so exciting that I opted to do that instead and so that is how I began.
Sally: You both talked about salary. Were you paid? You were obviously the only one hired and you were being paid sort of pauper’s wages at the time. Did you have a chance to compare your salary to the male lawyers? Were they equivalent at the time?
Marcia: Yes, the salaries were equivalent. They were not great salaries, but they were acceptable. At the time, I think I probably got paid $12,000 a year. My husband was also a starting lawyer who was working for the government, making a government salary. And the two of us because of it with our salaries, felt as if we had never had so many resources and so much money and we could even afford to go to a restaurant from time to time. So the $12,000 a year seemed very reasonable to me when I first began. I didn’t have any children and so we were pooling our salaries and that was fair enough and the salaries were transparent, even in those early days.
Sally: Wow. We could use a little of that today.
Judy: For sure.
Sally: So, Judy, let me turn to you and ask, how did you identify the issues that you were going to focus on? Because as Brooksley Born and Gladys Kessler pointed out, there were so many. So how did you focus in on your handful of important issues, priority issues? And Marcia, I want you to answer the same question.
Judy: I’d like to say we began with some grand strategic plan, but that would not be true. There were several issue areas that I inherited as the first staff person. The organization, as I said, operated with volunteers and we were divided into counseling committees. One was employment discrimination, another was family law and child support and child custody, and one, maybe my favorite, was counseling women who wanted to retain their birth-given name or go back to their birth-given name.
Sally: Which was not allowed?
Judy: It was indeed allowed but you had to follow some DC government or Maryland or Virginia government regulations to do it properly so that you didn’t get yourself into trouble basically. And so we counseled people about how to do self-help and go back to their birth-given name or not assume a name upon getting married.
Sally: I have to ask this question for the young women in the room and the young men in the room as well. You both took your husband’s names. Would you make the same decision today?
Marcia: I would not.
Judy: Definitely not. I got married [at] the very end of 1967. It never occurred to me to keep my own name. So it wasn’t a conscious decision and then I rejected the idea, it just…
Sally: Just wasn’t done.
Judy: It wasn’t done. I didn’t know anybody who’d ever done it. I thought you get married, you take your husband’s name, so that’s what I did. But it wasn’t a feminist, non-feminist decision. It was a non-think decision.
Marcia: And for me, it was similar. It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t. I got married at the end of my second year of law school, went back to law school the third year and that was all fine with me, but then I started a part-time job and I started the part-time job as Marcia Greenberger, my new last name. And I was very upset because it was fine that I had Greenberger as a last name as long as everybody knew what my real last name was and this new job, they didn’t know that I wasn’t really Marcia Greenberger. My name was Marcia Devins.
Sally: That’s wonderful.
Marcia: So I know and could say with quite a bit of certainty having just had that instinctive reaction that my identity was being taken away from me, that I wouldn’t do it now if I had the choice.
Judy: So here’s the difference between the very end of 1967 and really by 1971, 72, when the then Women’s Legal Defense Fund had a counseling committee on how to help women keep their own name. They’re not very many years for the awakening of women to the importance of who they are and not losing their identity by virtue of the metaphor of a name. So employment discrimination was a body of work that we knew and understood as an organization before I even started, and a case was pending in the Supreme Court, Gilbert vs. G.E., a pregnancy discrimination case by the IUE brought by…
Sally: A union?
Judy: …A union by a wonderful woman named Ruth Weyand, challenging G.E.’s health and disability policy which covered everything and when I say everything, I mean everything. It covered vasectomies, it covered circumcisions, it covered injuries you received from felonies you committed. There was only one thing it didn’t cover, and that was pregnancy.
Marcia: And I will just insert, even complications of pregnancy weren’t covered.
Sally: That means you couldn’t take disability for complications of pregnancy.
Marcia: That’s right.
Judy: Or health insurance coverage. It was both the disability and the health coverage.
Sally: And so if you gave birth, you couldn’t get your health insurance policy to cover any of the complications along the way but you could get them for all those other conditions that you talked about.
Marcia: That’s right
Judy: That’s right. And so that case when I came in 74 was wending its way through the Supreme Court, as I remember it, but Marcia can remind me. She and the then Women’s Rights Project was working on an amicus brief and we quickly began helping with that on behalf, I think, of all the women’s groups, maybe? I don’t remember.
Marcia: Well, that case was one of the first cases that I began to work on. And so when I began, and that would have been early 1973, they were just filing that in the case and it was in the District Court in Virginia.
Sally: Can I ask you, it’s on its face now in 2019. It seems so outrageous that they would not cover the pregnancy and childbirth for women, but they would cover all these conditions for men. Did you smell a very good case when you began working on that?
Judy: Absolutely. It was outrageous then and it’s outrageous now.
Marcia: It’s very interesting because, as we can talk about, the case began in District Court. And as I had said, the Center for Law and Social Policy was under the tax laws, a tax-exempt organization, and part of the point of it was to provide legal representation to unrepresented groups, and here was a union with lawyers. Now, they were obviously not an unrepresented group representing their workers but, on the other hand, it was Ruth Weyand basically by herself and the General Counsel of the IUE, which were electrical workers, had many legal issues that they had to contend with and it was a small shop of lawyers when Newman was the general counsel so they had very, very few resources. When I came to figure out what it was I would start to work on, one of the areas that was clear was employment because that was so central to people’s lives and futures. And I went to meet with Ruth Weyand, who was one of these real early heroines who was a labor lawyer from the 40s on, and an extraordinary woman and strong woman, and [inaudible 39:35] originally from Chicago. I was talking to her to get advice about employment discrimination issues and what she was seeing as a woman, union lawyer, and she told me about this Gilbert versus General Electric case and how much she needed help. But when I went to talk to the lawyers at the Center for Law and Social Policy as this being one of the projects I might take on, they were concerned that we just not represent unions who have legal representation.
So what we did was represent a whole array of women’s organizations to file what was called the “friend of the court” brief. And that was how the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and we joined forces on behalf of a broad array of women’s organizations, but our whole point was to play a very active role. So we actually filed the first brief before either G.E. or the union did, to set out why pregnancy is a condition that can be disabling and should fit into the model of what they were covering, just as Judy was describing, and that it was sex discrimination, and violated the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of sex. To exclude pregnancy-related disabilities, including complications of pregnancy as well as the disabling period when you have a baby, that that was pure sex discrimination.