Because of Sex
One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work
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Through first-person accounts and vivid narrative, Because of Sex tells the story of how one law, our highest court, and a few tenacious women changed the American workplace forever.
Best known as a monumental achievement of the civil rights movement, the 1964 Civil Rights Act also revolutionized the lives of America’s working women. Title VII of the law made it illegal to discriminate “because of sex.” But that simple phrase didn’t mean much until ordinary women began using the law to get justice on the job—and some took their fights all the way to the Supreme Court. Among them were Ida Phillips, denied an assembly line job because she had a preschool-age child; Kim Rawlinson, who fought to become a prison guard—a “man’s job”; Mechelle Vinson, who brought a lawsuit for sexual abuse before “sexual harassment” even had a name; Ann Hopkins, denied partnership at a Big Eight accounting firm because the men in charge thought she needed “a course at charm school”; and most recently, Peggy Young, a UPS truck driver, forced to take an unpaid leave while pregnant because she asked for a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting.
Praise for Because of Sex
“Meticulously researched and rewarding to read. … Thomas is a gifted storyteller.”
—New York Times Book Review
"Gives well-earned attention to women who remained unknown even as the causes they fought for gained support and the legal actions they brought entered the casebooks under their names."
―Linda Greenhouse, The New York Review of Books
"One of the brilliant aspects of this book is how it intertwines political history with developments in the law. In the end, this book is about the sacrifices women have made for women. It is about all of us and the commitment we will make to ensure dignity, respect, and equal rights for the average women who make this country great."
―Laurie Levenson, Los Angeles Review of Books
“The definitive account of Title VII’s sex provision.” ―Slate
“A singularly important look into the relationship between women, the workplace, and the law. Gillian Thomas close-reads ten seminal cases. It's almost impossible to believe that this legal architecture didn't exist until so recently, or that women managed to work at all without it. This is a compelling, readable narrative about a law that changed everything, and the people who worked to spearhead a revolution.”
—Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
“Elegantly written and vividly described, Because of Sex tells the fascinating story of America’s accidental feminists – the women who, because of circumstance and courage, changed long-held perceptions of what Americans thought women were capable of. It is a must read for anyone – man or woman – who puts on a uniform, or a suit, and goes to work every day.”
—Clara Bingham, co-author, Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law
“The definitive and up-to-the-minute account of one of – if not the – most important achievements of the feminist revolution: legal equality in the workplace. Not only does Thomas tell this invaluable story, she brings the wronged women, their lawyers, and even the bad actors on the other side to life in the most engaging way. The reader comes to care for these largely unsung heroines deeply and to learn a lot of law along the way. Brava!”
—Linda Hirshman, author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World
“In these gripping stories of the unsung women who helped lead the legal fight for gender equality, Gillian Thomas elegantly proves Justice Holmes’s maxim, ‘The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience,’ and she shows in vivid, painful detail how the brave battles of these plaintiffs made real life better for millions of their fellow Americans, women and men alike – if sadly, not always for themselves.”
—Todd Purdum, author of An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
“Thomas writes with precision and grace (and a lovely lack of jargon) about ten cases that established the full reach and scope of Title VII. The plaintiffs and attorneys she profiles here―some of whose courage and determination render them truly heroic―helped build the precedents that enable women to seek formerly male-only jobs, to work through marriage and parenthood, to be free from sexual harassment.”
—The Boston Globe
“Giving faces to the names of women who brought these cases makes this book remarkable beyond the important historical perspective it offers.”—Elle
“Compulsively readable … a moving and informative account of a struggle for equality that remains incomplete. ” —Publishers Weekly
“An elucidating study of landmark sex-discrimination cases waged in the wake of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” —Kirkus
“A riveting read, particularly for fans of Gail Collins's When Everything Changed.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Pays overdue tribute to the intrepid women who fought to end discrimination and right egregious wrongs against women seeking their civil rights.”