Class Action

Class Action

By Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

    One is inclined to appreciate a book whose subtitle also serves as a solid introductory sentence to a book review. In the case of Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, one’s impulse towards appreciation is rewarded by a story that is both completely compelling and extremely important.

    Class Action is the story of a case which originated in the Mesabi Iron Range of Minnesota, the largest iron-ore deposit in the world. In 1975 Eveleth Mines, an Ogelby Norton company, responding to a federal mandate, hired the first four female miners in the company’s history. The number of the company’s union miners at the time was roughly 1,000. Over the next few years, as mandated, the number of female miners gradually increased.

    The working at the mines powerfully reflected the prevailing opinion among management and miners that "It’s dirty. It’s filthy....A woman can’t handle it." Or as Lois Jenson, one of the original four miners, was told on her second day on the job, "f......g women don’t belong here. If you knew what was good for you, you’d go home where you belong."

    Most people below forty take the concept of sexual harassment for granted, regardless of their various opinions and definitions of the term. Yet sexual harassment is a legal and social construction whose development mirrored the time frame of the case of Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines: 1975-1987. The conditions at the mine were as extreme as can be imagined. The mines were filled with pornography and explicit graffiti, the female miners subjected to constant sexual attention of both a verbal and a physical character.

Sexual harassment does not by nature lend itself to a class action in that its incidents tend to depend on too many personal factors between individual people. That the work environment at Eveleth Mines was uniformly sexualized to the point of being a class action made it a unique case by which the very definition of sexual harassment in the work environment might be isolated and defined in a general sense.

    Class Action, is co-authored by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, a journalist and a lawyer respectively. This partnership works well to sustain a smooth narrative containing succinct and accurate legal explanations and summaries. The book is filled with compelling personalities, personal and legal drama, and events of profoundly important legal and social significance. The case itself spanned more than a decade, a fact which the final ruling issued by the Eight Circuit Federal court noted made the obtaining of justice all but impossible for the plaintiffs.

    Perhaps the single most striking element concerning the case’s ultimate resolution is that the primary plaintiffs in the case didn’t really emerge from it personally intact due to its prolonged brutal and composite nature. Class Action is ultimately a story of genuine heroism sustained at a terrible price, a pyrrhic for those who fought it, but an immense triumph for the legions of women whose legacy it is.