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The Lawsuit

As a union leader, Brian Lahti tried to help the women at Eveleth Taconite. He says he had to handle complaints informally because neither the company nor the union had a policy on harassment. - Photo by Stephanie Hemphill

Some men were appalled by the harassment, but they were afraid to say so. Brian Lahti was a maintenance mechanic at Eveleth Mines at the time. He says he supported the women. “But I had to go to that job, too,” he says. “You had to be careful how you walked and talked and treated the whole thing.”

Other men were sure the women were lying, that they filed the lawsuit just to get money from the company. Vern Niedermeier drove a service truck at the mine; he carted supplies, ran errands, and drove people where they needed to go. He says the women were out to get the men.

“If I had to take a girl to the clinic, I’d go with somebody else in my truck, “ he says. “There would be three of us, because things were getting that bad. You didn’t know. If you touched them, they’d go in and complain.”

In fact, most of the other women at the mine did not support the suit. Some women even signed a petition saying they disagreed with it. Jan Wollin was one of the signers. Wollin says things changed after the suit was filed. She remembers one day when a maintenance man refused to get onto an elevator with her. He told her he was afraid of the lawsuit.

“And I said, “Get your butt in here,’” she says. “I said, ‘I’m Jan, okay, remember me? I’m Jan. I’ve never had any trouble with you. I’ve never had any trouble with any of the guys. What makes you think I would cry rape?’”

The man said, “Some of them would.”

Wollin told him, “I’m not some of them. I’m Jan. I’m not like the other women.”

In fact, many women testified for the company in federal court. They said they didn’t feel harassed at Eveleth Mines, and they weren’t offended by the pornography or the swearing.

But in spite of the opposition from their coworkers, male and female, the women won the first round in court.


Next: A Landmark Decision