In 1996, eight years after the women filed suit against
Eveleth Mines, Judge Patrick McNulty released his decision on how much
the women should get in damages. It wasn’t much.
McNulty is dead now, but he made clear in his opinion that he just didn’t
find the women’s stories credible.
The massive equipment in the mine dwarfs ordinary vehicles. - Photo by Stephen Smith
McNulty wrote, “Sexual discrimination claims are highly emotional,
and experience teaches that this characteristic is often manifested
in exaggeration and histrionics by claimants and counsel, and by interpreting
reasonably expectable interpersonal conflicts in sexual terms.”
McNulty wrote that the women were misinterpreting the men’s actions
at the mine. One woman had testified that a man asked her for sex and
later lunged at her. She thought he meant to rape her. Judge McNulty
said she had an active imagination; the judge said maybe the man just
meant to say “boo.”
McNulty said hostile environment cases were so new that the mine had
not been on notice that its behavior might be illegal – and besides,
the judge said, it couldn’t be expected to counteract years of
male dominant culture overnight.
The judge gave the women damage awards ranging from $2,500 to $25,000.
In other sexual harassment cases, women had been winning hundreds of
thousands of dollars – even millions. So the women decided to
appeal. But it was too late for Pat Kosmach.
Kosmach had been healthy when she first filed the suit, tough and feisty.
She was a natural leader; she pulled the women together and helped keep
their spirits up. But as the case wore on, she began having trouble
walking. Her friend Jeanne Aho remembers they day Pat Kosmach learned
that she had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“When she called, it was like one of the worst days of my life,”
Aho says. “She said she was relieved that she finally found out
what was wrong. But it was a death sentence.”
As she got sicker, it became clear that even if the women won the harassment
policy they wanted, Pat Kosmach would never benefit from it. She wouldn’t
be able to work, and she wouldn’t be around to enjoy any money
they might win. Still, she went on with the court battle, hoping she
could win some money to leave to her children. Aho says her friend signed
court documents from her hospital bed.
“It was horrible,” she says. “To watch somebody lose
their body inch by inch, and all the while trying to keep up her strength
to keep fighting this thing. Although she did live longer than they
expected her to, out of sheer determination to try to see this thing
Pat Kosmach died in 1994, six years after filing the suit against Eveleth
Mines. Because she died before the case was resolved, her family would
get nothing. Jeanne Aho says her friend left a piece of herself at the
mine – literally. She made sure some of her ashes were sprinkled
over Eveleth Taconite.
“Kind of like, ‘I’m gonna haunt them forever.’”
Aho says. “’They’re not rid of me. They’ll never
be rid of me.’”
Sixteen of the remaining women appealed their case – including
Steele says the women went through phases when they wanted to quit,
but they told each other, “No! We’re going to stick it out.
You know you’re right. That’s what they want us to do. What
more can they do to us?”
But Steele says it was a lonely battle. “There were quite a few
years we didn’t go out into the community much,” she says.
“You just felt everybody was talking about those damn women from
But in the end, the women won. In 1997, a federal appeals court reversed
Judge McNulty. The court scolded the judge and the lawyers for letting
the case drag on for a decade, and for letting the mining company lawyers
ask invasive questions of the women. The court ordered a new trial.
And in 1998, the women and the mine finally settled the case.
As part of the settlement, the women and their lawyers agreed not to
disclose how much they received. But lawyer Paul Sprenger says, “Financially
they got as much as any women in any case, or more.”