Friday, May 04, 2007

Not much new to say, but I thought I'd pass this story along. In spring 2005, I helped put together a conference at Penn Law on Drug Policy Reform. One of the speakers was the Honorable Donald Lay, a senior judge on the Eighth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals. He was there to speak out for reform of federal drug crime policy -- one of his late life passions. It was an honor to have him as part of the conference.

I didn't realize at the time that Judge Lay had authored the Eighth Circuit's decision in Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., the nation's first sexual harassment class action, which brought a long overdue end to the fight of a female mine worker in Minnesota who, along with her female co-workers, had been brutally harassed on the job. (You may remember the movie North Country, which was based on the case.) Jenson's story was also the subject of an excellent book called Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, a great read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike! Had I known this about Judge Lay, I might have been too nervous to even speak to himat all. One passage of his decision reads:

"It should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment engaged in by Eveleth Mines inevitably destroyed the self-esteem of the working women exposed to it. The emotional harm, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit of each plaintiff. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irrepearable. Although money damage[s] cannot make these women whole or even begin to repair the injury done, it can serve to set a precedent that in the environment of the working place such hostility will not be tolerated."

Wow. He also admonished the lawyers in the case for causing needless delays, writing, "the buck stops here," and demanding that "[i]f justice be our quest, citizens must receive better treatment." On remand, the 17 plaintiffs were then able to turn their average of $10,000 in damages each, as awarded by the magistrate judge who called much of their complaint "histrionics" prior to their appeal, into a $3.5 million settlement award.Quite a victory for justice.

This long story does have a point, and a sad one at that. Several days ago, Judge Lay passed away. I read about it on a the How Appealing law blog, a must-read for law-minded nerds, here. Because the post didn't mention anything about Judge Lay's recent work on behalf of drug policy reform, I dropped a short note to the blog author and was touched to see a follow up post noting just that here. So the point of this story is that the world recently lost a truly excellent judge and person, one who should be remembered and celebrated.

No comments: