THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“To be able to advance the feminist legal principles within the constraints that the government faced was a real challenge.“
Interviewed by Judy Waxman, October 2019
DL: I’m Donna Lenhoff and I live in Washington, D.C.
JW: And when and where were you born?
DL: I was born in 1951 in Chicago.
JW: Tell me a little about your family background.
DL: My parents were first -generation Jewish. Their parents were from Russia and/or Poland. They grew up in what my stepmom always called the “GVS”, the Great Vest Side, of Chicago. It was essentially a very Jewish area that many of the Russian immigrants came to. Yiddish was their first language. They felt it was a really wonderful community to grow up in because people were very caring, everybody knew each other.
My mother’s grandparents lived upstairs. It was a warm and cohesive community. And then when my parents got married after the war, we moved first to the north side of Chicago and then to the suburbs. My parents actually had a pretty unhappy marriage and they were divorced when I was around 15. They each remarried, quite happily. The rest of the time I lived at home with my mother and stepdad and step-siblings and biological brother, whom I’m all still close with, I’m glad to say.
JW: Are you the oldest? Where do you fit in?
DL: I’m the oldest of all of them, including all of the step-siblings on both sides.
JW: What would you say your life was like before you got involved in the women’s movement? What kind of things in your childhood and early adolescence led you to think about the women’s movement?
DL: I think the primary influence was my mother and how unhappy she was in her marriage. She always felt that she was economically tied to my dad. She didn’t have a college degree. She went back to school later, to her credit, and she communicated to me – she probably shouldn’t have – but she definitely communicated to me that she was unhappy, and she was stuck, and she felt that she needed to stay in this unhappy marriage, because she couldn’t support herself; and that a woman needs to be able to support herself. For example, she insisted that I learn to type, which even then I knew was maybe not the right thing for me. But I did learn to type, which is a good skill to have, for sure.
JW: And what led you to actually get involved in the movement and what year was that?
DL: I think it was probably 1970 and it was while I was in college. My mother and I both read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique at the same time. What can I say, it’s very clichéd: I read that book and that was it. I was a convert. I joined a women’s group in college – a women’s consciousness-raising group at University of Chicago. That meant a lot to me.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after college. [At] the University of Chicago of course a lot of people go to graduate school, but I wanted to do something that made more of a difference in the world, I thought, and that was less in the ivory tower. And a lot of my peers were thinking about law school and I was interested in law school because for one thing, I mean not a very good reason, it was a career path, right?
It was pretty laid out for you. I didn’t have to think about how to design a career. Or anyway, I didn’t think I had to think about it. It turns out I was wrong about that. It was a bit of a groundbreaking thing for a young woman to do and I was interested in integrating a profession that had previously been mostly the province of men.
JW: And so, the consciousness raising, some of that led you to the law school idea?
DL: Yes, for sure the consciousness raising. My peer group, my mother’s admonition that I needed a career. All of those things. It was in the air. This was the early 70s.
JW: And so, you did go to law school.
DL: I did. I went to Penn. At that time the class was 25 percent women on the dot, which we always thought was a little bit suspicious.
JW: What year was that?
DL: I started law school in ‘73 and graduated in ‘76.
JW: Did the percentage increase while you were there?
DL: A little bit. Maybe it was 30 percent in the incoming class when I left. But it was not a big increase at that point. Of course, it has now increased. It’s been a lot of years since then.
At Penn one of the first things I did was also join a women’s group – oh, no, it was before that. I actually graduated college a little early and so I had about six months before law school started when I was already living in Philadelphia. I was going to go to law school and knew I was going to go to Penn, and I got a job at Community Legal Services (CLS). I thought I would want to do something like Legal Services.
CLS, if you’re not familiar with it is a very well respected, well known, large, at least it used to be a large legal services program. At that time, it was really interested in law reform and involving the community in a lot of good ways.
The job I got was actually as a secretary, since I could type, in what they called the Divorce Unit, because they had so many divorces that they needed a special Unit to process them. And it turned out that many, if not most of the divorces involved women who were battered and also women who were trying to figure out their lives. How to get away from bad relationships – my parents’ situation, my mother’s in particular. That made it an attractive thing for me to work on and pretty quickly I learned about a small fledgling organization in Philadelphia called Women in Transition.
My colleague, who was a paralegal in the Divorce Unit, had been doing some volunteer work for Women in Transition, which was designed to provide counseling about the law and options to women who were going through divorce and separation, many of whom were battered.
I ended up leaving CLS and working, through a government-funded employment program, for the summer before law school for Women in Transition. I wrote a handbook on something like how to get a simple divorce in Pennsylvania, so I felt pretty engaged in the women’s movement already.
And then when I got to law school I joined a women’s group. A Women’s Law Group and a consciousness raising group. I was very lucky to have been in these two places. The women’s consciousness raising group included two women who had just graduated law school. They were three years ahead of me. They had graduated from Yale. They had come down to Philadelphia.
One of them [came] because her husband had gotten a teaching position at Penn. I don’t remember why the other one came. They were very close friends and they had been involved as law students in writing an article on the legal implications of the Equal Rights Amendment with a law professor at Yale whose name I’m blanking on, but their names are Barbara Brown and Ann Freedman.
You may be familiar with them and if not, you or somebody should interview them. Barbara is here in the Washington area now and Ann I believe is still in Philadelphia. They wanted to do something with women’s law, and they ended up creating something called the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, which they were setting up at the same time that I was in this C.R. group with them.
They were very influential in my thinking about what the law could do for women, about the legal underpinnings of equality, and about what did equality mean. I also took the first Women In the Law course at Penn, which Barbara taught as an adjunct.
Then there was no job at the Women’s Law Project when I graduated law school. Penn at that time had an internship program with what was then called the Center for Law and Social Policy here in Washington and it was a semester-long program for which you got credit. There were seminars given. This was set up originally when the Center was first set up and it was a significant funding stream for the Center, because the law schools that were involved – there were five law schools involved – provided some of their tuition money, [which] they sent to the Center for providing these internships to the law students.
I made some great friends there and some great professional contacts. In particular the Center for Law and Social Policy at that time had a number of different projects and one of them was called the Women’s Rights Project, which was headed by Marcia Greenberger. So that’s when I met Marcia – it would have been 1975. I didn’t work directly for her. I actually worked for a woman named Lois Schiffer.
Marcia already had three lawyers on staff plus she had probably five or six law students every year through the internship program. So, it was already quite a growing concern and that really launched my realization that one could have a career in this. Not only that, but that one could have a career doing work affecting public policy, not just litigating.
I’ll try to tell this story quickly. Marcia had a meeting at the FDA, and she invited the law students to go with [her]. It was a big meeting with a lot of people, so we could sort of sit in back, but and I don’t even remember the topic. It might have been whether IUD’s are treated as drugs or medical devices – better for women to have them treated as drugs, because they’d be more regulated. It might not have been that issue.
Anyway, we got there. We actually were a bit late, because we had to drive to the FDA, which at that time was still somewhere in Rockville. We walked in and Marcia sat down in her very quiet way and she began asking some questions. Just inserting a few questions into the conversation. If it was done this way what would the implication be?
Again, I have no recollection of the substance. What I remember was within the first 10 or 15 minutes of Marcia doing this, the whole room and the whole conversation was just responding to the points she was making, and she clearly had a concept of how the statute worked, how all the different sections of the FDA statute work together. That was pretty influential.
There was no resolution at the end of this meeting, there never is, but my impression was there was no doubt but that she had made a huge impact on the officials’ thinking about how to regulate this product and what the legal structures were. How the law could and should work in a way that made the most sense. For me this was all about the power, that dynamic in the room.
JW: What were you working on with Lois?
DL: We were suing the US Army. I was working almost exclusively on a lawsuit against the U.S. Army for restricting so many military occupational specialties so that women couldn’t work on them. It had something to do with combat. You all know the end of the story with that.
JW: Why don’t you say what the end of the story was.
DL: The number of military occupational specialties that women are restricted from is now much smaller. There is still some sort of combat exclusion and of course, women are still not drafted. The Supreme Court has made it clear that lower scrutiny is given to sex discrimination and even other kinds of discrimination in the military or national security-related jobs. The justifications for discrimination are given greater weight in the military context. We are still not there [at equality] and there is some question about whether even the Equal Rights Amendment would get us there.
JW: In 40 years we have made progress.
DL: Yes, and women in the military – as you know, the participation of women in the military is much greater than it was then.
JW: OK so we’re at the end of law school.
DL: Yes. I’m at the end of law school, I have finished the semester and I want to come to Washington to work on public policy, preferably on behalf of women. Again, there was no immediate job, so I came to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, because it seemed like a good job. It was kind of like a clerkship – it was in the honors program and I figured I could parlay that into something. After about a year I began volunteering for a group called the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, which I’d been familiar with when I worked at the at the Law Center, because the Law Center had represented the Women’s Legal Defense Fund on a few things.
JW: This was at CLASP. The Center for Law and Social Policy.
DL: Yes, what’s now the National Women’s Law Center and then was called the Women’s Rights Law Project of CLASP. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund was setting up a shelter for battered women and I wanted to do some work on some feminists things with my pro bono time. But I didn’t really want to do more legal research – sitting in the library, which I did all day every day at work. I wanted to do something that was a little bit more hands-on. And the Women’s Legal Defense Fund had a Task Force on abused women, which was setting up a shelter for battered women.
So I joined this Task Force. It was pretty early on and I became quite active on the Task Force. This is all while I was working at the Justice Department. I ended up being the official representative of the Task Force for Abused Women on the Women’s Legal Defense Fund’s board, because the members of the Task Force were mostly not lawyers. The people who were working on setting up a shelter didn’t have to be lawyers, but they needed the imprimatur of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund.
It was also a way to help raise money for the Task Force. Foundations in the area were familiar with the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, but not familiar [with the Task Force]. That’s why the Task Force wanted the shelter to be part of the Fund. The Fund had discovered, like I had discovered in Philadelphia some years previously, that most of the calls that they were getting to their domestic relations hotline really were about abuse. They realized that they needed to deal not just with the legal issues arising from abuse, but also with some of the very day-to-day practical issues, such as getting women to someplace safe. As I understand it, that is how it happened.
The person who had been representing the Task Force on the Fund’s board was not a lawyer and wasn’t able to answer the questions that the Fund was raising about “little” things, like liability and insurance. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund’s board was all lawyers. In fact, the woman who was representing the Task Force on the board would come back from the WLDF board meetings all flustered, saying, “They don’t want us to do anything.”
There was an Us and Them relationship being created, which was not healthy and not good for either organization. I ended up taking over and was able to translate to the non-lawyers what the lawyers wanted and to the lawyers how the non-lawyers were looking at it.
I was essentially on the board and became quite close with Judy Lichtman, who was at that time [officially] part-time, although she still worked full-time even then. That would have been 1977. I think she started at the Fund in ‘74. Before that, they didn’t have any full-time staff. Any staff at all. In 1978, Judy got some grants to hire her first staff attorney and I applied, and the rest is history.
I worked at that organization for twenty-three years, starting as the first staff attorney of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund doing a lot of local, legal-service provision as well as continuing to work with this shelter for battered women, which ultimately became My Sister’s Place. It spun off from the WLDF when it got its own funding base and had developed its own relationships with funders, etc. And it’s still quite a good going concern. I just went to their big 40th anniversary celebration.
So that’s how I started. The organization [WLDF] changed a lot, the work changed a lot over those twenty-three years. When I left, I was the vice president and general counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families. And we no longer did any local legal-service provision. The name changed and our mission changed over time. The mission evolved and there was a big change in connection with the name change.
JW: What was that?
DL: It was from doing the local services to just doing national advocacy. The shelter, I think, had already spun off, but there were still some other local service programs. There were, for example, a couple of different legal counseling programs that volunteer lawyers for the Women’s Legal Defense Fund provided. Those were spun off to different organizations, some with better success than others. I think there are still some gaps in local service provision about women’s legal rights. Some things became less important. For example, there was a name change committee.
JW: I was part of that.
DL: I’d forgotten that. Judy, this might have been how I met you first. And there was a credit discrimination committee, which was never really busy. I think a lot [of it’s] because women don’t know why they’re denied credit. They think it’s because they have lousy credit and don’t realize that perhaps a man with similarly lousy credit would not have been denied credit.
I don’t know – there wasn’t a big demand. My sense is that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act has made a difference in banks’ and other lenders’ actual practices, and that they realize that women are a huge market and that they shouldn’t be turning people away because they’re not married.
I mean certainly the more egregious practices have stopped. Whether there are more subtle practices? Probably there are. I just haven’t followed that issue. So those two weren’t spun off [and were just ended]. The demand was not very high to begin with. But the employment discrimination and the domestic relations ones [had high demand and were spun off].
The domestic relations one really got subsumed under the various activities around battered women. The shelter picked up some of it. There was an emergency domestic relations legal project that the Fund had run, which was picked up by the local courts.
The employment discrimination one got picked up first by the Washington Lawyers Committee and then I think by another organization, the name of which I’m forgetting. I’m afraid nobody’s doing it now.
JW: Which one were you involved in?
DL: At first, when I was the staff attorney, I oversaw all of the local providers, the volunteers who were providing that service. And the Fund found volunteers to handle potentially precedent-setting cases of sex discrimination. I oversaw the intake for that program as well as ultimately the placement of those cases with volunteer lawyers. And also, part of that was doing amicus briefs in cases before the courts of appeals and the Supreme Court on issues of sex discrimination and related issues.
I did all that and then [also worked on] grants to monitor the enforcement of the equal employment opportunity laws by the EEOC, the Labor Department and particularly the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, known as OFCCP – which I’m only explaining because it’s going to be relevant later – and the Justice Department. We did that in conjunction with Women Employed, which is a non-legal organization in Chicago. It organizes women around employment issues and had brought a big case against Harris Bank that was really precedent-setting, in which the Women’s Legal Defense Fund found a lawyer for Women Employed and guess who – that was the National Women’s Law Center.
Everybody was in everybody’s business all the time. So bottom line, my legal substantive specialty was the employment discrimination side and issues that came out of that. I’ll let you ask me some questions, because I have just been talking. My career is easy to talk about, because it flowed pretty naturally around women’s issues.
JW: Let’s hear then about some of what we might call your accomplishments and maybe disappointments in employment law when you worked at National Partnership for Women and Families.
DL: My biggest accomplishment was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which I did from soup to nuts. I was there at the very first meeting with the first member of Congress who wanted to propose some sort of pregnancy or maternity leave law, some sort of federal maternity leave law, because there wasn’t one at the time. I was there at the signing of the Family Medical Leave Act and the writing of the regs and I actually took a sabbatical from the Partnership in 1996 to work for Bill Clinton’s re-election and my job there was to work on Family and Medical Leave issues. So that was taking it into the electoral space, which I had really never done before.
In some ways the intellectual genesis of the Family Medical Leave Act was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was enacted in 1978 and was one of my very first assignments when I came to work at the then Women’s Legal Defense Fund. In fact, my assignment was to stand outside the room where the conference committee between the House and Senate was going to be held and save a place for Judy.
I didn’t even know what a conference committee was really, except dim recollections from high school. They sure don’t teach high school civics in law school and they didn’t teach legislation.
You will appreciate this, Judy. My next assignment on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was to do some research on what was called the Conscience Clause. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ultimately was enacted in ‘78. That was just when I started. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in employment and amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in order to do that. And Title VII, of course, already prohibits sex discrimination. You would think that that would include pregnancy discrimination. But the Supreme Court had held that it did not.
Actually, I want to back up even a little bit further. The semester I was at the Center for Law and Social Policy, for one of my assignments, Lois loaned me out to the woman who was arguing the Gilbert case, which was the case in which the Supreme Court held that pregnancy discrimination is not a form of sex discrimination. I did some research for her that she needed for a footnote in a Supreme Court brief. I crawled around the stacks of the Library of Congress to try to find it, because she was looking for legislative history of the Equal Pay Act.
The woman was named Ruth Weyand and she was a lawyer for the electrical workers union. She was from the generation ahead, significantly ahead. Senior to Judy and Marcia and me. I’m about 10 years younger than Judy, just to give you an idea. (I had heard of Marcia, because she and her husband were both on Law Review. She was kind of a phenom. She was such a smart woman and to get on Law Review, that was worth noticing back then.)
So I was involved in the intellectual and legal question – the jurisprudential question, really – of whether pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination and how pregnancy should be treated in the workplace from 1975. I’m just saying this because on top of the personal and professional positives – and there were many that I got out of doing feminist legal work in my career – there is also a significant intellectual component, because issues like this were really interesting.
It is not totally obvious how pregnancy should be treated. It certainly wasn’t obvious in the 70s whether pregnancy was something special and apart and different. And in fact, it created a huge rift in the women’s movement and the women’s legal movement in the 80s and 90s – whether pregnancy should be treated differently. And the issue is closely related to abortion.
JW: What was the riff?
DL: Some people felt that pregnancy was special and different and that there was nothing comparable to it that men experienced, and that therefore you had to have special legal protections for pregnancy. Those were the people who supported, for example, providing maternity leave for women and nothing comparable for men. That was essentially the position that the Supreme Court took in the Gilbert case.
They said in Gilbert that pregnancy – there’s nothing like it for men. So, pregnancy is something special and apart. And since you can’t discriminate against a man, you can’t deny a man something for being pregnant, but you can deny a woman something for being pregnant – there’s no equivalence. You can’t say that a woman and a man are comparable for this – pregnancy is extra special.
Therefore, the Supreme Court said it’s OK to discriminate against pregnancy. You can treat it better, or you could treat it worse. They didn’t say you could treat it better in Gilbert, but they said you could treat it worse. That was in fact the specific holding in Gilbert, that you could treat it worse.
We, the Partnership, the Law Center and the people, the IUE and the people who had pressed for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, there was a coalition that Judy Lichtman was quite instrumental in that formed in ‘76 right after the Supreme Court decision and Gilbert came down, to overturn that decision, because it was an interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights statute.
It could be overturned by Congress – and that’s what the Pregnancy Discrimination Act did. So that whole view is that no, pregnancy is comparable. It’s comparable to other temporary disabilities. Because you can be pregnant, and it doesn’t mean that you’re unable to work. It means that you might be unable to work for a period of time, not unlike if you have a heart attack. And this might be a period of weeks, depending on the severity of the heart attack.
And of course, now heart attacks are not what they used to be. You can be out for a couple days even. You could have the stents put in and you’re good. A little or a lot of medication, etc. And there are people for whom that’s all the pregnancy is. That is, their pregnancy-disability is not very long. And so that’s comparable to other kinds of disabilities that take you out [of work].
Disability is even the wrong word, because now we use disability the way it is used under the Americans With Disabilities Act. People who have a disability, but they still can work. They have a condition, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t work. That’s why we started using the term serious health condition to refer to pregnancy and heart attacks and other things that make you unable to work, but temporarily.
After you’re done with your disability related to childbirth, pregnancy and childbirth, then you might want to stay home with your child, and you should be able to stay home with your child and keep your job. Not only that, but there’s nothing to prevent men from being able to stay home with their children. A shocking idea!
Similarly, they’re not disabled. Some men and women are similarly situated with regard to that aspect of pregnancy and childbirth and they’re similarly situated with regard to their ability to work during the period of so-called disability. So, it just took me a little while to explain that. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it’s a complicated topic. Looking at it this way forces you to step outside. I think of it as it forces you to take a step back and have a broader perspective on what it is that affects somebody as a worker.
The perspective is not limited by the lens of gender that we’ve always had. It’s very easy to say, oh, pregnancy is different, you know, and we’ll treat it specially, because then you don’t have to take that step back. It’s harder for people to take this step back. So that’s why I’m saying this. There was a rift and it was intellectually challenging and interesting to figure out a way to do this without allowing pregnancy to be treated worse, which is of course what the Supreme Court had done in Gilbert.
I worked on the Gilbert case, I worked on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And then a court in California actually held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act meant that California’s Maternity Leave Act was unlawful because it violated Title VII. So that created this immediate need to come up with some kind of response.
The people in Congress originally wanted to enact a federal Maternity Leave Act and amend Title VII to allow maternity (only) leave. That would have been contrary to the principles of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. I started a campaign to educate people about this, including the members of Congress. Ultimately, that was what was introduced and passed over a nine-year lobbying campaign. I was the day-to-day head of the Family and Medical Leave Act coalition.
The FMLA says you get leave for serious health conditions regardless of your gender and you also get leave to care for your family members including new babies, but also seriously ill children and other family members with serious health conditions [regardless of your gender]. It carries through that concept. In the end, it persuaded the special treatment people, for the most part.
There are one or two law review articles that were written during this period that I still get annoyed with, because they are so snippy. It’s suggested that maybe we would have done better to just go with maternity leave only, and they get it paid. And that if it was only for women, we would’ve been able to get it paid. But of course, now we’re working on paid family leave. To answer your question, that was my proudest accomplishment.
JW: Any major disappointments you could point to?
DL: The biggest disappointment is that family medical leave, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, all of those things – and sexual harassment is a great example – all of that work [has been done] and they’re still so common. I attribute that to the government for the most part, not having done what it really needed to do. Not having made it a priority to enforce the laws that prohibit discrimination in employment. It is true of race discrimination as well as sex discrimination.
You can legislate behavior, but not opinions; not the way people think. And when you have such a big economy and so few resources devoted to educating people about what the law is and to enforcing what the law is, you get what we have now, which is these good laws on the books and they’re just there. And you know, a large number of scofflaws.
Most people get away with continuing to discriminate, many employers that do discriminate. And certainly, they harass and abuse employees on the basis of race or sex or religion etc.
JW: You left the Partnership at some point and have you continued to be an activist on women’s issues?
DL: Yes, I have broadened my activism. I have been looking at it more as employment discrimination and employment issues generally and not just for women, although that’s still in many ways how I’ve come to these views. Immediately after I left, I was at the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, which is a coalition of groups that work on behalf of nursing home residents, most of whom are women. That was a bit more about a consumer health perspective – not so much an employment perspective. It’s a cause I really believe in.
But I missed working on the employment issues, so I ended up going back to them. I was the first legislative director for the National Employment Lawyers Association, who are the lawyers who represent women and men who are bringing employment discrimination cases and other kinds of employment cases against their employers. It’s the plaintiffs’ bar, essentially. They work on all kinds of issues, but Title VII issues particularly.
Another disappointment: forced arbitration is one of the big ways in which people are cheated out of the rights that are on the books, because they’re not enforced, and people get forced into this uneven playing field: instead of going to the EEOC, they have to bring their cases before arbitrators. And the deck is stacked against individual employees in arbitration. Not having been able to make much of a dent on that is another disappointment. When I was at NELA, as that organization was called, that was one of our biggest priorities. We got a few things done. So that is one big concern.
And then I left NELA after about four years there to go to the OFCCP, the office in the Labor Department that I had mentioned previously. I had a position called Senior Civil Rights Adviser. A colleague from back in the days of working on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was appointed the director of the OFCCP in the Obama administration and she brought me in to help her develop and implement government policy.
And as I said, the government not doing enough is what I think was one of the biggest problems and I felt like this was an opportunity to really make a difference in that space. While I was there, my major project was to rewrite the Sex Discrimination guidelines of the OFCCP, which we did, and we updated them to include the concept of pregnancy discrimination, which wasn’t even in those guidelines.
We were unable to update the affirmative action requirements for women and people of color in the construction industry. That was probably my biggest disappointment there. It’s complicated. There were good reasons why we were unable to do it.
I loved working in the government. To be able to try to advance feminist legal principles and in general the equality legal principles within the constraints that the government faced was a real challenge. And the people were so good and so thoughtful and so smart.
The lawyers were really excellent. I was surprised. I did not think that necessarily, except maybe the top level of political appointees, I would be as impressed with the Department of Labor, but I really was. I loved that job.
After the debacle in 2016, I was a career employee and I moved to the Office of Apprenticeship in the Department of Labor, because I wanted to help them implement their recently redone regulations on equal employment opportunities for apprentices. Most apprentices are in the construction industry and really the reason I went there was my interest in trying to increase women’s representation in that non-traditional sphere.
It was something that I’ve been involved in way back since the Women’s Legal Defense Fund days. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund and the Law Center both had been involved in a lawsuit, actually, that ended up with a requirement that 6.9 percent of construction workers [on federally funded projects] be women. A requirement that still all these years later has not been met in every location. I really wanted to work on this, and this gave me an opportunity to work on it.
When I left the labor department, I had a contract to continue to do that and I am still doing that. I am trying to help the Office of Apprenticeship actually enforce its EEO regs. And there is no 6.9 percent requirement specifically for apprentices, because that’s for workers. There is affirmative action required, but that’s based not on the number of people who are already construction workers, but on the percentage of women in the available labor pool.
And since most construction apprenticeship programs only require that you have a high school degree and maybe a driver’s license in order to be an apprentice, the percentage of women who have a high school degree and a driver’s license is pretty damn close to 50 percent in most places. It is based on the geography. That has been my focus for the last two years – that 50 percent number in my head.
JW: We need to conclude. We’ve gone through your involvement from the beginning of your life basically.
DL: Most certainly my professional life.
JW: Do you have any concluding looking back statement or anything we left out?
DL: One thing I want to say is that in addition to the sort of professional and intellectual benefits that I’ve gotten from being involved in the women’s movement and specifically in the women’s legal movement, I have made such really good friends. Many of whom I still see, some of whom I don’t see often. When I do, it feels like we are so much on the same page. We perceive the world in the same way. There’s just a personal aspect to it as well, because the people who get involved, it’s their belief system really.
I think it’s true of any movement. The people in your movement feel like family and that has been a really nice aspect of having been able to be in this life, which has been great.