The evolution of sexual harassment awareness

2. Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co.

Richard Foreman/Warner Brothers
Charlize Theron stars as a miner in the 2005 film 'North Country,' a fictionalized account of a major sexual harassment case.

In 1975, Lois Jenson started working in a mine in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. Almost from the beginning, according to court documents, Ms. Jenson and other women were subjected to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, threats, stalking, and intimidation. This behavior has since become known as "strategic" or "territorial harassment," in this case acts perpetrated by men in a predominately male workplace.

In 1984, Jenson wrote a complaint about the abuse to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The mine’s co-owner, Ogelbay Norton Co., refused the state’s request to pay $6,000 in punitive damages and $5,000 to Jenson for mental anguish.

In 1988, Jenson’s attorney, Paul Sprenger, filed the United States’ first class-action sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of Jenson and other women who worked for the mining company. After a lengthy legal process in which the details of their personal lives were made public, Jenson and the other plaintiffs were awarded $10,000 apiece in 1996. However, the judgment was appealed and reversed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997, and a new jury trial was ordered.

Just before the trial was to begin in 1998, 15 women settled with Eveleth Mines for a total of $3.5 million. The case became the subject of a book entitled “Class Action” in 2002 and in 2005 was made into a film called “North Country” starring Charlize Theron.

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