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Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work

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“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 “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.


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“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 “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.

30 review for Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work

  1. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    I'm a bit biased because the author is my boss/mentor/friend, but this book is great. I work in "women's rights" as a lawyer, so a lot of these cases are familiar to me, but this book does a masterful job of presenting the ins and outs of ten seminal Supreme Court cases in ways that even I found tremendously illuminating. Like the popular podcast "More Perfect," this book elucidates what went on behind the scenes--from personal life events, quirky coincidences, and disturbingly biased Justices. I'm a bit biased because the author is my boss/mentor/friend, but this book is great. I work in "women's rights" as a lawyer, so a lot of these cases are familiar to me, but this book does a masterful job of presenting the ins and outs of ten seminal Supreme Court cases in ways that even I found tremendously illuminating. Like the popular podcast "More Perfect," this book elucidates what went on behind the scenes--from personal life events, quirky coincidences, and disturbingly biased Justices. It's amazing how thoroughly our legal system is shaped by chance happenings and caprices, and this book catalogs this phenomenon in rich detail.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leah K

    In 1964 Title VII was put into law to stop employers from discriminating against employees based off race, religion, national origin, color, or sex. A huge step but not one that changed overnight, or really even today. This book, as made obvious in the title, focuses on the sex part of this. Not only does it discuss the law but also 10 landmark cases ranging from 1971-2015(!) where women stood their ground and said "Wait, this isn't right!". An interesting book. But so much to go through and a l In 1964 Title VII was put into law to stop employers from discriminating against employees based off race, religion, national origin, color, or sex. A huge step but not one that changed overnight, or really even today. This book, as made obvious in the title, focuses on the sex part of this. Not only does it discuss the law but also 10 landmark cases ranging from 1971-2015(!) where women stood their ground and said "Wait, this isn't right!". An interesting book. But so much to go through and a lot to absorb. There were so many names and some of the cases just start to blend together in my reading. But if you have interest in women's rights, this is a good one to get into. But not for light reading!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Mangler

    Learning more about each of these cases was a deeply infuriating experience. It also made me appreciate the brave women who stood up, not only for themselves, but for all women, and created a better - though not perfect - world that so many of us take for granted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cara Putman

    I used this book in a class with undergraduate students. It gave great context for ten landmark Supreme Court cases.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    We stand on the shoulders of giants. These women went through hell before getting their cases to the Supreme Court, and we owe them so much.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    Late in the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Representative Howard Smith, a firm opponent of the bill, added the word "sex" to the prohibitions against discrimination in employment so that the bill read “because of . . . race, color, religion, sex, or national origins." This addition came only two days before the bill’s passage in the House, without prior hearing or debate. He believed that his amendment “[would] do some good for the minority sex.” Well, thanks to Ms Thomas' astonishingl Late in the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Representative Howard Smith, a firm opponent of the bill, added the word "sex" to the prohibitions against discrimination in employment so that the bill read “because of . . . race, color, religion, sex, or national origins." This addition came only two days before the bill’s passage in the House, without prior hearing or debate. He believed that his amendment “[would] do some good for the minority sex.” Well, thanks to Ms Thomas' astonishingly well researched and clearly written book, we now have an understanding of how little prepared the courts were for legal challenges on the meaning of "because of sex" and how the interpretations of Title VII opened opportunities for women that were hitherto unavailable, yet today are considered the norm. This is an invaluable book for almost everyone and I enthusiastically recommend it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elissa Eastvedt

    Wow. Just, wow. I expected this book to be a dry, prosaic read, but instead it was engaging all the way through. I take so much for granted and am a bit ashamed to learn how oblivious I have been to major stuff happening right under my nose during my lifetime. No wonder so many women in my mother's generation are aggravated at women in my generation and younger for not properly respecting/understanding the fight for equal rights for women. After reading this book, I can even understand the senti Wow. Just, wow. I expected this book to be a dry, prosaic read, but instead it was engaging all the way through. I take so much for granted and am a bit ashamed to learn how oblivious I have been to major stuff happening right under my nose during my lifetime. No wonder so many women in my mother's generation are aggravated at women in my generation and younger for not properly respecting/understanding the fight for equal rights for women. After reading this book, I can even understand the sentiment that women need to vote for HR Clinton regardless of what they think of her politics. (I don't agree, but now at least I think I get where those who DO are coming from, and I now think differently about the role of the first female US president, whoever that may turn out to be.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Features what's usually missing (and most interesting) in law school treatment of civil liberties - the actual parties behind the cases. The random explanations of legal concepts are a little annoying but probably makes this more accessible to non-legal audiences. Interesting to see how far women in workplace have come and liked how epilogue highlighted potential future areas of development. Would have liked a little more of author's viewpoint- is fairly matter of fact. Features what's usually missing (and most interesting) in law school treatment of civil liberties - the actual parties behind the cases. The random explanations of legal concepts are a little annoying but probably makes this more accessible to non-legal audiences. Interesting to see how far women in workplace have come and liked how epilogue highlighted potential future areas of development. Would have liked a little more of author's viewpoint- is fairly matter of fact.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    From the book jacket "...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..." Readable, informative, a reminder hard work is still needed to keep the law moving...ever forward. From the book jacket "...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..." Readable, informative, a reminder hard work is still needed to keep the law moving...ever forward.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carley

    Great book! I would recommend this to anyone; don't want to discriminate. Very informative and for the most part enjoyable to read, some dry sections that perhaps could have been given a reworking. I learned a lot reading this book and it altered my perspective. Thank you, Ms. Thomas! Great book! I would recommend this to anyone; don't want to discriminate. Very informative and for the most part enjoyable to read, some dry sections that perhaps could have been given a reworking. I learned a lot reading this book and it altered my perspective. Thank you, Ms. Thomas!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    This collection of case histories is one that most every American working woman should read to remember how far we have come toward equality in the workplace and how far we still have to go especially for our blue-collar sisters.

  12. 4 out of 5

    CalmPalm

    Excellent review of some of the less famous cases that made up the modern workplace regulations on sexual harassment and discrimination. You really get a sense of how bad things were and how much work went into achieving these rights. I highly recommend reading this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Well written and informative This overview of the cases related to gender based discrimination was entertaining and informative. With each chapter focusing on one case - the flow is easy to stick with - and avoiding the repetition common in other books of this type.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Wow. Women 50 and under will not believe what our foremothers went through in the workplace. A good read for those interested in women's rights and legal history. Warning. Somewhat dense and filled with legal complexity not familiar to the average reader, although they are explained well. Wow. Women 50 and under will not believe what our foremothers went through in the workplace. A good read for those interested in women's rights and legal history. Warning. Somewhat dense and filled with legal complexity not familiar to the average reader, although they are explained well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary A.

    Read it if you have followed all these cases. But more so read it if you didn't follow these cases. Read it if you have followed all these cases. But more so read it if you didn't follow these cases.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Martin Doudoroff

    Straightforward, efficient and engaging history of the major victories over sex discrimination in SCOTUS.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Char Freund

    7/10 Background: Our neighborhood has a free, small community library where we share donated books. During CoVid the Clubhouse has a limit on those permitted inside each room at a time. Only two in library. I noticed someone waiting in the hall so hurriedly picked up this book thinking it was “On the Basis of Sex” about RBG. So I read through the forward and first case study before realizing it was not about Ruth Bader Ginsberg but 10 case studies that tested Title VII that added sex in prohibiti 7/10 Background: Our neighborhood has a free, small community library where we share donated books. During CoVid the Clubhouse has a limit on those permitted inside each room at a time. Only two in library. I noticed someone waiting in the hall so hurriedly picked up this book thinking it was “On the Basis of Sex” about RBG. So I read through the forward and first case study before realizing it was not about Ruth Bader Ginsberg but 10 case studies that tested Title VII that added sex in prohibiting discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. The book is definitely a special interest genre; in this case it would be history, law, or women studies. As I enjoy all of those areas, I did continue reading the book and found it interesting and enlightening. I am in my late 60s so remember living some of the examples that were later proven to be discriminatory. I had a paper route from ages 11 to 16 but it had to be in my brother’s name despite him being six years younger. I was asked if and when I was having children at job and promotion interviews. My first credit card was in my husband’s name despite my earning more. And let’s not even talk sexual harassment as a nurse in a male MD world where nurses had to stand to greet doctors and give up our chairs for them. When I was 8 1/2 months pregnant a doctor who thought it was disgusting for pregnant women to work demanded I carry all 30 of his charts as we did rounds (nurses give updates on patients and then write report and orders on the charts...you don’t think docs did their own writing, do you?). I was reported to the director of nursing for insubordination when I creatively placed the charts on a chair with wheels and pushed it room to room. And as in one of the cases in the book I was written up because being assertive was not ladylike when I asked why male orderlies made more money than female nurses aides (a job I had to pay for nursing school). So in the end I did enjoy the book. Each test case was a chapter so it made it easy to read one case each day. The cases were logically presented and legalese was kept to a minimum or explained in simple terms. I knew of a few cases while they were happening but was too busy living work and motherhood to realize until later that each of these women has made my life and that of all women easier or at least easier to obtain justice if discrimination is experienced. Not everyone in a general book club would enjoy this selection but it would make interesting discussion in a current events or women studies group.

  18. 5 out of 5

    NCHS Library

    From Follett: 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 chil From Follett: 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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    "Because of Sex" is a lively, people-oriented discussion of the evolution of the US Supreme Court's interpretation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with respect to its protection of women at work. . The women at the center of these cases were diverse: one left school at 15, another had a graduate degree; some were White, some Black; some were pregnant or had preschool children; others were intentionally childless. What they had in common was being victimized by discrimination and/or harassment at wo "Because of Sex" is a lively, people-oriented discussion of the evolution of the US Supreme Court's interpretation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with respect to its protection of women at work. . The women at the center of these cases were diverse: one left school at 15, another had a graduate degree; some were White, some Black; some were pregnant or had preschool children; others were intentionally childless. What they had in common was being victimized by discrimination and/or harassment at work The #MeToo campaign makes it clear that there is still a lot of work to be done to protect women at work. Women need to know how to seek help when harassed or discriminated against. Equally important is changing the culture that tends to blame and doubt the victim while excusing the man who takes advantage of his position of power. Reading this book is a good place for any woman to start learning when and how to stand up for herself. Unfortunately, far too many work places do not have adequate support for victimized women, even today. Seeking help and support outside of the workplace may be needed. Although not the subject of this book, Because of Sex does briefly mention how the law can apply to men as well.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

    One would not expect a book about Title VII litigation to be at all compelling— useful and informative, maybe, but not fun to read. Thomas achieves this by bringing in just enough biographical detail of the women involved in the lawsuits to make each case into a story, but not so much that she ever loses the focus on the the legal issues at stake. Title VII cases also tend to get into the weeds very quickly, involving all kinds of questions of definition and legal tests, but Thomas also manages One would not expect a book about Title VII litigation to be at all compelling— useful and informative, maybe, but not fun to read. Thomas achieves this by bringing in just enough biographical detail of the women involved in the lawsuits to make each case into a story, but not so much that she ever loses the focus on the the legal issues at stake. Title VII cases also tend to get into the weeds very quickly, involving all kinds of questions of definition and legal tests, but Thomas also manages to explain everything clearly and succinctly, as well as maintain a through-line that shows how each case builds on earlier ones.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I learned so much about the cases, and the women, that had such a huge impact on the workplace today. This was a highly enjoyable, readable and knowledgeable book about the ten cases that were tried and succeeded in helping women start the journey towards true equality in the workforce. Our journey isn't complete, but it helps to take the time to learn about where it all started. Highly recommended for women's studies, history of Title VII, workplace culture and women's history. Not to mention s I learned so much about the cases, and the women, that had such a huge impact on the workplace today. This was a highly enjoyable, readable and knowledgeable book about the ten cases that were tried and succeeded in helping women start the journey towards true equality in the workforce. Our journey isn't complete, but it helps to take the time to learn about where it all started. Highly recommended for women's studies, history of Title VII, workplace culture and women's history. Not to mention significant Supreme Court cases.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kati

    Behind every Supreme Court case is a story. With these ten cases, you learn the story of how it originated and the change it created for women in the decades to follow (and cases to follow). I think the best part was although many of the plaintiffs faced extreme hardship because of the injustice they endured, they all were still proud of their efforts and didn’t regret their legal actions because it precipitated a greater good. And all of them were regular everyday people making a difference. Al Behind every Supreme Court case is a story. With these ten cases, you learn the story of how it originated and the change it created for women in the decades to follow (and cases to follow). I think the best part was although many of the plaintiffs faced extreme hardship because of the injustice they endured, they all were still proud of their efforts and didn’t regret their legal actions because it precipitated a greater good. And all of them were regular everyday people making a difference. All very courageous and inspiring.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    Should be required reading for anyone working in compliance or employment law. This book fills quite a gap created by traditional legal education—telling the stories of cases from the point of view of the women discriminated against who stood up and fought back, at significant cost, and the lawyers who fought for them, despite the unlikelihood of success or, even, payment, instead of crediting the advancements to the male judges and justices who heard their case. And easy to read. Thomas IS a gi Should be required reading for anyone working in compliance or employment law. This book fills quite a gap created by traditional legal education—telling the stories of cases from the point of view of the women discriminated against who stood up and fought back, at significant cost, and the lawyers who fought for them, despite the unlikelihood of success or, even, payment, instead of crediting the advancements to the male judges and justices who heard their case. And easy to read. Thomas IS a gifted storyteller, as The NY Times Book Review says.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    Every American woman in the workplace should read this work, whether they have a legal background or not. The work is written with plain meaning; anyone should be able to read and understand how the author broke down the cases. This work is a perfect illustration of how far women in the workplace have come, but also, how far we still have to go. Highly recommended to anyone who have an interest in (American) women's rights. Every American woman in the workplace should read this work, whether they have a legal background or not. The work is written with plain meaning; anyone should be able to read and understand how the author broke down the cases. This work is a perfect illustration of how far women in the workplace have come, but also, how far we still have to go. Highly recommended to anyone who have an interest in (American) women's rights.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert S

    Because of Sex has an excellent premise for a book but unfortunately gets muddled in the execution. There is a lot of great information here but the format and style of the book prevents the reader (or least at me in this case) from enjoying it more. The book sometimes read like ten magazine articles as opposed to a more cohesive product. If you care about the topic or want to learn more then you should at least give it a chance though. Might end up enjoying it more than I did.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book tells an interesting history of the cases that changed the legal landscape with respect to women in the workplace. I also like the way the author told the stories behind each of the women plaintiffs. For a legal book, it reads easier than a textbook. By the end of the book, the cases were a bit repetitive. I also think the book could have done without the political quips and slant and the tangents about cases unrelated to the 10 described in the chapters.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Excellent Details If you're like me, you've probably either never heard of these cases or heard about them in only the broadest of strokes. For remedying that, this book is excellent. Thomas provides a detailed account of how these complaints came to be, how they wended their way through the cases, and why they are important in terms of outcome and legal precedent. This is a book that I'm glad to have read and one that I would highly recommend to others. Excellent Details If you're like me, you've probably either never heard of these cases or heard about them in only the broadest of strokes. For remedying that, this book is excellent. Thomas provides a detailed account of how these complaints came to be, how they wended their way through the cases, and why they are important in terms of outcome and legal precedent. This is a book that I'm glad to have read and one that I would highly recommend to others.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    It would be easy for a legal review like this to be a long, dry read, but I really enjoyed reading this one. In addition to details of the case, there are profiles of the women and lawyers involved. The book also does a great job of showing how long and arduous the legal process can be. Many of the plaintiffs saw little material benefit from their victories but talked about how having these precedents in place would benefit future women in the workplace.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    I have to thank the women at the heart of these cases: Dianne Rawlinson, Mechelle Vinson, Ann Hopkins, Teresa Harris, Sheila White, and so many other women who had the guts and fortitude to help earn the rights working women have today. Also if I read more books like this, I run the risk of becoming a Supreme Court junkie.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This should be a must-read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike because sex discrimination is so much a part of our culture and so often overlooked or misunderstood. The writing and research are superb. I look forward to sharing this with my daughter someday, though I hope the work-world she enters will make the stories of what so many women have endured seem like fiction.

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