Summary and book reviews of Class Action by Laura Leedy Gansler

Class Action

The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law

by Clara Bingham, Laura Leedy Gansler

Class Action
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2003, 400 pages

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Book Summary

"This riveting, assiduously well-reported account follows the tortuous class-action lawsuit that redefined sexual-harassment law.... Class Action is a useful reminder of the emotional and psychological cost of waging even the most successful -- and justified -- lawsuits."

In the tradition of A Civil Action and Erin Brockovitch, Class Action is a story of intrigue and injustice as dramatic as fiction but all the more poignant because it is true.

In the coldest reaches of northern Minnesota, a group of women endured a shocking degree of sexual harassment–until one of them stepped forward and sued the company that had turned a blind eye to their pleas for help. Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, the first sexual harassment class action in America, permanently changed the legal landscape as well as the lives of the women who fought the battle.

In 1975, Lois Jenson, a single mother on welfare, heard that the local iron mine was now hiring women. The hours were grueling, but the pay was astonishing, and Jenson didn't think twice before accepting a job cleaning viscous soot from enormous grinding machines. What she hadn't considered was that she was now entering a male-dominated, hard-drinking society that firmly believed that women belonged at home–a sentiment quickly born out in the relentless, brutal harassment of every woman who worked at the mine. When a group of men whistled at her walking into the plant, she didn't think much of it; when they began yelling obscenities at her, she was resilient; when one of them began stalking her, she got mad; when the mining company was unwilling to come to her defense, she got even.

From Jenson's first day on the job, through three intensely humiliating trials, to the emotional day of the settlement, it would take Jenson twenty-five years and most of her physical and mental health to fight the battle with the mining company. But with the support of other women miners like union official Patricia Kosmach and her luck at finding perhaps the finest legal team for class action law, Jenson would eventually prevail.

Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler take readers on a fascinating, page-turning journey, the roller-coaster ride that became Jenson vs. Eveleth and show us that Class Action is not just one woman's story, it's every woman's legacy.

CHAPTER ONE
The Mine
March 1975

It snowed all day and night on Sunday. By dawn, three feet of snow covered the Mesabi Iron Range. Lois Jenson warmed her delicate hands on her coffee mug as she looked out the window of her small house in Virginia, Minnesota. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall: 6:15. She drank the last of her coffee and set the mug in the sink. It was Monday, March 25, 1975, Lois's first day of work at Eveleth Mines. If she didn't want to be late, she had better give herself some extra time. The day shift started at 7:00 a.m. In this weather, it would not be a twenty-minute trip.

Luckily, her turquoise Ford Maverick rode high over the road, and though she had to inch along on Highway 37, she could clear most of the snow on the two-lane road, which cut a straight line through the austere landscape of aspen, birch, and jack pine. In the distance she could make out the three twenty-story stacks of the mine's Forbes Fairlane Plant, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
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 book's 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 group's discussion of Lois Jenson's story. We also hope to inspire personal avenues of inquiry as you read this eye-opening work.


About This Book
When Lois Jenson went to work at Eveleth Mines in 1975, she saw her new job as a lifesaver–a way to bring herself, and her young son, out of minimum-wage poverty. But she soon discovered that the comfortable paychecks came with a ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New Yorker

This riveting, assiduously well-reported account follows the tortuous class-action lawsuit that finally improved working conditions at Eveleth and redefined sexual-harassment law.... Class Action is a useful reminder of the emotional and psychological cost of waging even the most successful -- and justified -- lawsuits.

Library Journal - Cynthia Harrison

Excessive detail, compelling though it is, diminishes the book's utility.

Kirkus Reviews

Detailed but not dense a sturdy addition to the literature of social justice and contemporary women's issues.

Publishers Weekly

Because of the personal price the plaintiffs pay, and despite the success of the litigation, this account falls somewhere between a cautionary tale about the dangers facing those who challenge entrenched institutions and a bittersweet celebration of the ultimate effectiveness of the justice system.

Author Blurb David Halberstam, author of War in a Time of Peace and The Best and the Brightest
Fascinating and chilling, with powerful echoes of Silkwood. I could not put Class Action down.

Author Blurb Bob Woodward, author of All the President's Men and Maestro Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom
Brilliantly reported, documented, and written, Class Action is only about sexual harassment in name. The real story is about the too-frequent indifference and absurdity of both the workplace and our legal system. Protagonist Lois Jenson, a worker in a Minnesota mine, is the real Erin Brockovitch. Her war is not only that of every woman but of every citizen.

Author Blurb Linda Fairstein, former prosecutor and bestselling author of The Deadhouse and Final Jeopardy
Bingham and Gansler tell the riveting story of the landmark victory won by Lois Jenson and twenty other women who worked in Minnesota's Eveleth Mines. Backbreaking labor and heartbreaking harassment were their daily fare–so if you've ever complained about taking on a man's job, stop whining and read this brilliant book.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Toobin, author of A Vast Conspiracy and Too Close to Call
Most of us learn about law from the tidy conclusions of judges' opinions, but Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler reveal a greater truth about our legal system in Class Action. This always riveting, often horrific account of a landmark sexual harassment case is an unsparing look at the real nature of judicial progress–and the costs of even the most dramatic courtroom victories.”

Author Blurb Caroline Kennedy, author of Profiles in Courage For Our Time and In Our Defense The Bill of Rights in Action
Class Action tells an important story a story of how the law can effect change and bring justice into our lives. As women, we are indebted to Lois Jensen for her courage and Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler for giving it voice.

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