Women's Law Fund
The Women's Law Fund, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating gender discrimination through litigation and education, was incorporated in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1972. The fund was co-founded by attorneys Jane M. Picker and Lizabeth A. Moody, then colleagues at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. Primarily funded by the Ford Foundation, the Women's Law Fund first supported precedent-setting litigation regarding gender discrimination in employment, education, government benefits, and housing. The Women's Law Fund was not a law firm; rather, it was an organization securing attorneys and providing funding for litigation in its area of expertise. In fact, the Women's Law Fund was the first non-profit organization in the United States to address gender discrimination cases. Although located in Cleveland, the fund was a national organization.
Notably, the first case supported by the fund, LaFleur, et al. v. Cleveland Board of Education, et al., reached the United States Supreme Court to result in a landmark ruling. In 1974, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Board's policy of mandatory maternity leave penalized female teachers for deciding to bear children, thus violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Other litigation of note supported by the fund includes multiple cases involving the Cleveland Police Department. Litigation succeeded in allowing women to enroll as police cadets, broaden their police presence beyond desk jobs at the Women's Bureau of the Cleveland Police Department, and allowing female police officers to wear pantsuits instead of mandatory skirts. The following cases all relate to the Cleveland Police Department: Christ, et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al., Clayton, et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al., Loy, et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al., Lucas, et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al., and Parkinson, et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al.
As the fund's efforts produced change, the Women's Law Fund shifted its focus in the 1990s to new areas of discrimination, namely that of American women employed overseas by American companies and female age discrimination. The organization disbanded at the end of its 2006 fiscal year, largely due to the achievement of their mission.
click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for Women's Law Fund, Inc.
One of the cases supported by the Women's Law Fund was Zamlen et al. v. City of Cleveland, et al. Barbara Zamlen and seven other plaintiffs initiated this suit on June 14, 1983. This group of women, unsuccessful applicants for entry-level firefighter positions in 1983, sued the City of Cleveland and various officials thereof, essentially for their role in gender discrimination against women in the profession of firefighting. According to a press release from the Women's Law Fund, "The Women sued on behalf of all women who applied for or took the 1983 and earlier firefighter tests, challenging both the physical and written tests as biased against women" (March 20, 1985). The city of Cleveland had never had a female firefighter up to this point.
On December 21, 1983, a Preliminary Injunction Order was set by the court to prevent the City of Cleveland from hiring any entry-level firefighters until the court could rule on the matter. This order was lifted in March 1985 after the city agreed to meet certain stipulations, including appointing between 15-19 women to the fire academy and that at least 15% of hires from each academy class for the duration of the 1983 eligibility list be women. This order resulted in the hiring of the first female firefighter for the City of Cleveland and also caused the city to re-develop its entry-level firefighter examination and to initiate a recruitment program for female applicants.
In 1987 much of the lawsuit was dismissed when Judge Alvin Krenzler found that the City of Cleveland had not intentionally discriminated against women through the use of its physical agility tests and at the same time it consolidated the suit with one filed by the United States Justice Department also alleging employment discrimination against women. On May 27, 1988 the court ultimately found for the defendants, saying, in summary, that plaintiffs failed to show that defendants intentionally discriminated against women applicants. One defendant, however, Dr. Norman D. Henderson, settled before this trial. The settlement amount was $100,000, and the disbursement of this money was argued through the court with an agreement finally reached in 1998.
The plaintiffs appealed the 1988 decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The case was argued on October 6, 1989 and decided, in agreement with the lower court, on June 11, 1990. The plaintiffs asked for and were denied a rehearing on July 30, 1990. Plaintiffs then petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari (essentially an opportunity for the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision). The Supreme Court denied the petition for a writ of certiorari on March 25, 1991.
Sources used in creating this historical sketch include Cleveland Plain Dealer articles from June 16, 1983, March 21, 1985, and May 28, 1988 along with a Women's Law Fund press release from March 20, 1985 and various court documents.
From the guide to the Women's Law Fund Records, Series III, 1970-2003, (Western Reserve Historical Society)
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