Synopses & Reviews
A petite single mother, Lois Jenson was among the first women hired by a northern Minnesota iron mine in 1975. In this brutal workplace, female miners were relentlessly threatened with pornographic graffiti, denigrating language, stalking, and physical assaults. Terrified of losing their jobs, the women kept their problems largely to themselves—until Lois, devastated by the abuse, found the courage to file a complaint against the company in 1984. Despite all of the obstacles the legal system threw at them, Lois and her fellow plaintiffs enlisted the aid of a dedicated team of lawyers and ultimately prevailed. Weaving personal stories with legal drama, Class Action shows how these terrifically brave women made history, although not without enormous personal cost. Told at a thrillers pace, this is the story of how one woman pioneered and won the first sexual harassment class action suit in the United States, a legal milestone that immeasurably improved working conditions for American women.
A petite single mother, Lois Jenson was among the first women hired by a northern Minnesota iron mine in 1975. In this brutal workplace, female miners were relentlessly threatened with pornographic graffiti, denigrating language, stalking, and physical assaults. Terrified of losing their jobs, the women kept their problems largely to themselves--until Lois, devastated by the abuse, found the courage to file a complaint against the company in 1984. Despite all of the obstacles the legal system threw at them, Lois and her fellow plaintiffs enlisted the aid of a dedicated team of lawyers and ultimately prevailed. Weaving personal stories with legal drama, Class Action shows how these terrifically brave women made history, although not without enormous personal cost. Told at a thriller's pace, this is the story of how one woman pioneered and won the first sexual harassment class action suit in the United States, a legal milestone that immeasurably improved working conditions for American women.
About the Author
Clara Bingham is a former White House correspondent for Newsweek
and wrote Women on the hill: Challenging the Culture of Congress.
She has written for Talk, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar,
and The Washington Monthly.
She is a graduate of Harvard University.
Laura Leedy Gansler is a lawyer specializing in alternative dispute resolution and securities law. She is a former adjunct law professor at American University. After graduating from Harvard University, Gansler received a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1989.
Reading Group Guide
1. The opening scene says a lot about Loiss personality. The roads are so clogged with snow that her three female colleagues miss their first day of work, yet Lois manages to make it on time and even gives a ride to a miner whose truck has stalled. By the end of the book, what has become of Loiss persevering, energetic spirit?
2. The most common excuse given for the male miners sexism is that women like Lois take away “mens jobs,” asserting that only men deserve or need a good compensation package. How did that notion survive as long as it did, especially with so many single women raising children in the Mesabi Iron Range? Without the 1974 consent decree, would Eveleth have had any incentive to open its hiring to women? Does your workplace have an unspoken distinction between “mens work” and “womens work”?
3. Discuss the worst job youve ever had. What made it so unbearable? What enabled you to leave it? Why did Lois and her co-plaintiffs stay at Eveleth for so many years?
4. The Eveleth men who opposed having female coworkers used sex as the main means of intimidation, ranging from graphic talk, posters, and phallic items, to stalking and threats of rape. What does the sexual nature of the harassment say about the men who perpetrated it?
Why was it particularly traumatic in the isolated setting of the mine? What are some of the more subtle ways in which these sexual tactics manifest themselves in modern society, including the political arena?
5. How do sexual-harassment laws affect your on-the-job interactions? Have you ever encountered a situation that was difficult to interpret as harassment?
6. Early in life, Lois experienced date rape. A few years later, she was abandoned by a fiancé when he learned she was pregnant. On the job, she was seduced by a co-worker who tricked her into thinking he wanted a caring relationship with her. She also had a brief marriage with an alcoholic who lied to her about his financial situation. After her divorce, another co-worker developed a disturbing obsession with Lois, sending her bizarre letters and gifts. Compare the different forms of harm caused by these five men. Do you think its true that a good man is hard to find?
7. Though Lois was physically exhausted after her first Eveleth days, she enjoyed being free from the mental pressures of her job at the credit union, where tellers mistakes were paid for out of their own pockets. Discuss the concept of “hard work.” How does the miners stress measure up to that of white-collar workers?
8. Lois defies the stereotype of a miner. She writes poetry, finds solace in self-help books, and exudes femininity when shes not in uniform. Some of her co-workers claimed that she took the harassment too seriously and was too sensitive. Did her personality keep her from getting ahead, or does it prove that she possibly was stronger than some of her tough-talking peers?
9. In the epilogue, Loiss friend Kent says, “A lot of good peoples images have been hurt. . . . There were only a select few that treated the women that way but we all got the rap for it.” Do men like Kent deserve any of the blame for what happened? Were there consequences for the few men who tried to intervene?
10. At first, Pat won the respect of the union and resisted what she referred to as Loiss “gossip sessions.” But once Pat joined the lawsuit, it became clear that she too had been angered by the harassment. Why didnt her union clout give help her improve the womens working conditions? Why would miners such as Joan Hunholz even go so far as to testify in favor of the men? Discuss the fickle dynamic between Lois and her co-plaintiffs.
11. Loiss case was not perceived to be lucrative, making it hard for her to get a lawyer. Did reading about Paul Sprenger change your perception of attorneys? What reforms would have made Loiss lawsuit less costly and less emotionally painful?
12. Do you think its simply coincidental that a settlement was not reached until a female insurance representative was assigned to negotiate on behalf of Oglebay Norton?
13. In “The Verdicts,” Jean Boler says that she thinks the women “would probably have gone through less stress by not speaking out than they did by standing up for what was right.” Do you agree? After the experience with special master Judge McNulty, and faced with a primarily male jury, would you have accepted the settlement or gone to trial?
14. What are the chances of the pink-collar ghetto and the glass ceiling becoming relics of the past?
No matter what you do for a living, Class Action raises important questions about the modern American workplace and the truth about equal opportunity. As the books extraordinary courtroom testimony reveals, the line between dignity and economic survival is finer than you might think. The topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading groups discussion of Lois Jensons story. We also hope to inspire personal avenues of inquiry as you read this eye-opening work.