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The Lawsuit

By 1988, a sexual harassment suit was no longer unheard of. That year, Working Woman magazine surveyed a group of Fortune 500 companies and found that a third of them had been sued for harassment.

The Eveleth mine processing plant is fifteen miles from the pit. Railroad cars bring the ore to the plant. - courtesy Eveleth Mines

One of the women at Eveleth Mines, Lois Jenson, read about sexual harassment and started looking for a lawyer. Jenson had tried filing a complaint with the state human rights department, but it had gone nowhere. And she couldn’t take what was happening to her anymore.

Jenson declined to comment for this story, but in court, she testified that she was grabbed and groped scores of times. A supervisor continually pestered her to have a relationship with him. Disgusting graffiti about her, complete with drawings, appeared on walls.

She and Pat Kosmach got together and finally found someone willing to take their case: Paul Sprenger, a Minneapolis attorney.

When the women told him what was happening at the mine, Sprenger was intrigued.

“It was pretty awful stuff,” he says. “It was clear that there was pervasive sexual harassment rising to the level of being a hostile environment for any woman to work there.”

Sprenger thought he could use this case to try a new legal tactic: He wanted to show that a hostile work environment could be so bad that it affected all of the women at a workplace. For the first time ever, he wanted to bring a sexual harassment case as a class action.

He asked the two women to find a third plaintiff, someone who worked out in the pit. They did. Kathy Anderson, the truck driver, agreed to join. Sprenger filed a suit demanding that the company pay damages and adopt a sexual harassment policy. Jeanne Aho talked to her friend Pat Kosmach after they filed the suit. She says Kosmach was excited. “She thought there was an end in sight,” Aho says. “But at work, it became a revenge thing. If you though you had it bad before, wait. Guys that weren’t part of the problem became part of the problem because they were defending their buddies.”

Aho says the retaliation was hard on her friend. “She was afraid sometimes,” she says. “You should never have to be afraid to go to work or afraid to be at home, afraid your tires are going to get slashed, stuff like that.”

Next: The Lawsuit - part 2