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An Early Landmark Sexual Harassment Case

Lois Jenson was one of the first women to get a job in Eveleth Mines, an iron mine, after the United States government forced industries to employ women and minorities in addition to men as an affirmative action decision regarding women’s rights and the rights of minorities. Getting the job however, exposed her to sexual harassment from her male coworkers. After keeping quiet out of fear of getting fired, Lois Jenson and the other women complained, but nothing changed. Ultimately, Lois Jenson decided to complain to the Minnesota Human Rights Department, who demanded that Eveleth Mines pay Lois Jenson $11,000, an action that Eveleth mines refused to perform. Lois Jenson got employment discrimination and sexual harassment lawyer Paul Sprenger to represent her, and in 1988 they filed in district court. Lois Jenson v. Eveleth Mines was to become the first sexual harassment case that would receive class action status, meaning it involved a group of people; other women joined Lois Jenson in what was to become an incredibly famous sexual harassment case.

This famous sexual harassment case began in December 1992 and within six months a liability trial judge ruled that Eveleth mines should have stopped the sexual harassment. A sexual harassment policy and education course had to be implemented in Eveleth mines. However, in 1993 a judge was appointed to oversee the trial and he had a history of sexual harassment himself. He permitted medical history of the plaintiffs into the trial and often fell asleep during this landmark sexual harassment case when he didn’t seem to be enjoying himself (according to sexual harassment lawyer Sprenger, in court documents). In the end, he awarded Lois Jenson and the other women involved in the sexual harassment case against Eveleth mines only $10,000. However, this decision was overturned in December of 1997 by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, who also ordered a jury trial to ensure fairness and a proper trial.

Lois Jenson and the other women eventually settled with Eveleth mines for $3.5 million dollars after three mentally and emotionally exhausting trials. The sexual harassment case was not easy for Lois Jenson. It took a lot of her emotional and mental health away from her, and her coworkers spoke out against the case and shunned her from their social groups and workplace groups. Sprenger, her sexual harassment lawyer, had to battle her personal history being brought up in court by the defendants, trying to portray her as promiscuous or crazy.

Lois Jenson v. Eveleth mines eventually went on to inspire a blockbuster film called North Country; this film depicting the sexual harassment case stared Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sissy Spacek. Lois Jenson initially did not want to be involved, but after being won over by the director of the film, she praised it, calling it very powerful.