“Meticulously researched and rewarding to read…Thomas is a gifted storyteller.” —The New York Times Book Review
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, UPS truck driver, forced to take an unpaid leave while pregnant because she asked for a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting.
These unsung heroines’ victories, and those of the other women profiled in Gillian Thomas' Because of Sex, dismantled a “Mad Men” world where women could only hope to play supporting roles; where sexual harassment was “just the way things are”; and where pregnancy meant getting a pink slip.
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.
ACLU attorney Thomas does a stellar job of illustrating how Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has dramatically improved working conditions for American women in this compulsively readable narrative that makes the law, and its history, accessible to lay readers. She grips from the very start, with an account of how the crucial three words, "because of sex," were added to the section of the Civil Rights Act dealing with employment discrimination by an "unrepentantly racist male octogenarian," Howard Smith, a U.S. Representative from Virginia. Thomas then traces the revolutionary developments that followed, as brave women fought the system, and won. Their triumphs are even more impressive because, as Thomas points out, they were "breaking new legal ground entirely." Chapter after chapter humanizes the plaintiffs, such as Ida Phillips, whose hopes for a better job on an Orlando, Fla., assembly line were dashed when, in 1966, she was barred from applying for a job because she had a three-year-old at home. The author merges the personal stories with the legal intricacies of the litigation, and crafts a moving and informative account of a struggle for equality that remains incomplete.