THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Judith A. Winston
“I’ve had quite a full, rewarding life as a lawyer and as a woman.”
Interviewed by Judy Waxman, July 9, 2020
JWaxman: Good afternoon. It is July 9th, 2020. This is Judy Waxman. I am interviewing Judith Winston and we are doing this over Zoom because we’re in the pandemic. So happy to see you. Please give me your whole name and when and where you were born.
JW: My whole name is Judith Ann Marianno Winston and I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1943, a place where my mother was born as well as my brother and sister.
Interestingly, there was a long time before I knew anything about women’s rights, although in reflecting on my life’s journey, I recall there were several instances in which the issues of gender discrimination and race particularly came into my life.
My family moved to Philadelphia when I was about eight or nine. I was a very good student, like many of my friends, and it was very obvious to my family and friends that I did well. Although many of my friends were not faring as well as students. Junior high was the first time I experienced differences in the way I was treated in terms of race and gender. For example, I was a big fan of the Perry Mason TV show, and thought being a lawyer was incredible, which I shared with my seventh-grade teacher, Miss Caroline Long. At the first parent-teacher meeting my teacher pulled my mother aside and said “Judy is a really good student but I don’t think it’s realistic for a Negro girl to be a lawyer”.
My mother was surprised because I don’t think I ever told her I wanted to be a lawyer. When she repeated that to me, it was just very startling to me. My teacher said to my mother I would make a really good teacher. So from that point on, I said I’m going to be a teacher. That had been my ambition throughout most of the rest of my education, except in the back of my head there was always this nagging thought of, why can’t I be a lawyer? What’s the problem?
Anyway, I next went to an all-girls public high school The Philadelphia High School for Girls. As an aside, Marcia Greenberger attended and several other women I came to know later who are feminists. Girls’ High School was a wonderful experience and I felt comfortable pursuing my studies there because, among other things, I had been plagued by this boy in junior high school who apparently liked me and always tried to get my attention but not in a nice way. He was a nuisance and he was just always bothering me and distracting me in class. It was a somewhat traumatic experience — always being bothered by this young man. It made school a lot less enjoyable.
I had no similar experiences at Girls’ High, of course. There, I had a sense of being able to be a leader and to see girls in leadership positions, such as running the yearbook production, and the student council and similar activities. While I was not all that active in those school organizations, it was sort of a revelation. I never really thought deeply about it but in retrospect, I think that is where I began to understand the possibilities for my life. As another aside, I was a member of the school orchestra. I play the cello, still play the cello a bit. Being in this all girls orchestra was a highlight of my high school years.
In terms of my racial identity, however, some interesting and sometimes disturbing things happened to me in high school
Let me just preface this discussion by saying to you, my orientation was mostly around issues of race until I was a year or two out of college. There were a number of instances that made me quite aware of the fact that as an African-American, there were some perplexing issues that I had to deal with. One particular instance stands out from my senior year of high school. When I was in my home room one morning, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that all Negro (an appropriate and much used term at that time) girls interested in interviewing with the representative from Howard University should go to a particular room at a particular time.
And so, when that time came, I got up from my seat in my home room along with one other classmate who was going to that meeting, and my home homeroom teacher said to me, “Miss Marianno where are you going?” I said, I’m going to meet with the Howard University rep. She said that is only for Negro girls. I said, I am a Negro girl. I remember her face turning bright red. At this time, she and probably a number of my other teachers, none of whom were African-American, mistook me as an Italian because of my name and complexion. To say the least, it was extremely disturbing to have my teacher challenging my racial identity.
In another instance in high school that involved race and which was highly disturbing was when I was in the senior class play. Although I was one of several Black girls in the senior play, I was the only one invited to the cast party in a white classmate’s home after the last performance. I walked into this party and discovered that all the girls who were in the play who were white had been invited but none of my black classmates. I remember feeling very torn about what I should do. Do they not know I’m a black student? Would it be problematic if they found out? Should I say something or just go along? It was a real dilemma, I’m embarrassed to say, because I did not want to be humiliated by revealing my race and have my white classmate upset, I didn’t know if I should say something or whether it was wrong not to.
So, you see, I was very conflicted about that. I did not understand why there should be a problem though it was clear to me that my white classmates generally did not have close friendships with the black girls in school. Race generally did not come up in informal discussions (with whites present). Nor were we taught anything in our history classes anything about slavery, race segregation or discrimination. I just didn’t know what the origin was of treating others differently on the basis of race. I didn’t know about lawful or de facto segregation though I attended segregated schools. All the schools in Atlantic City except the high school were segregated and I went through fourth grade there. I just never questioned it but thought that was just the natural way of things there. My brother and I attended integrated schools in Philadelphia and we were both startled to discover white kids in our classes there.
The great awakening for me as an African-American was when I went to Howard University. I received a scholarship – neither of my parents went to college. My father didn’t even finish sixth grade. He grew up in Florida with his grandmother and left school to work. My mother finished high school, went to a secretarial school for a year or two. I was a first generation college student. I was only able to go to college because I received a scholarship from Howard University that covered my tuition and my room and board. Otherwise, my family could not have afforded to send me. I knew that Howard was a predominantly black school [although from its founding in 1867 it included white students.]
There I met the indomitable Patricia Robert Harris, who at the time was an associate dean of students. She later became ambassador to Luxembourg and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Health, Education and Welfare (later Health and Human Services) during the Johnson Administration. She had been recruited to the staff at Howard (which she attended as an undergraduate) and named associate dean of women. However, she rebelled at the notion of representing Howard women only and she subsequently took all of the stationery with that title, crossed out “women”, and simply left the word “students”. She became an important mentor to me, largely through my husband (we were not married at the time but he was also a student at Howard). They were very close friends. By the way, he was a senior at Howard when I was a freshman.
One of the things that she did was to eliminate the “D.C. quiz”. Each freshman woman on campus, in order to leave the four-block radius of the University, had to pass the “DC Quiz” The Quiz included questions such as: what trolley car/bus do you have to take (by number and final destination) to get to a department store?; name a Beauty Parlor and its address; recite the streets in succession through the second and third alphabet [the east-west streets in Washington started with one letter names alphabetically and than ran alphabetically with two syllable names and then three syllable names alphabetically] . There were a number of other questions like that about getting around in Washington. Pat Harris didn’t know about the D.C. quiz being administered in the women’s dormitories and enforced by the “dorm mothers”. She was furious, because the men had no restrictions whatsoever about leaving campus, so she put an end to it. She was the first feminist I came to know well though I never associated that designation with her at the time.
My husband, Michael, and I married after my sophomore year in college. He had graduated from Howard University at the end of my freshman year and went to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. We became engaged at the end of my freshman year; I was eighteen and still remain surprised that my parents allowed that.
JWaxman: We married at the end of my junior year so I’m not too far behind!
JW: We married in August 1963. I had just finished my sophomore year, and I went back to California with him where he was doing his graduate work. I worked for a year there in the Accounting Office at the University of California, Berkeley. Here was my second substantial introduction to the issue of women’s rights and feminism. That was the year that Betty Friedan wrote her book The Feminine Mystique, which became a big hit among many women.
I had not read the book until one of my husband’s graduate student friends came over to dinner and asked, “Are you going to go back to school?” I said, “Yes, I’m sure I will, but I’m really enjoying myself working and being able to come home and not have to study.” She said, “Aren’t you afraid of getting housewives’ rot? A woman who has nothing to do other than to take care of her family, to keep house and all of that?” She told me about The Feminine Mystique, and I went out and bought the book.
Some years later I realized that my situation and my family were not at all like that the ones I read about in The Feminine Mystique. My mother always worked. My grandmother worked. My mother was a sewing machine operator and both my grandmothers were maids. The experience of the women described in Friedan’s book was not something that we experienced. I had never thought about the question of whether or not there was something I couldn’t do because I was a woman. However, I did hearken back to my seventh-grade teacher, but I thought her concern had more to do with my race than my being a girl.
I went back to Washington, DC in 1964 and I finished at Howard University in May, 1966. Our first child was born in October 1966, a daughter. We have two daughters. Lisa is the oldest. Cindy (or Cynthia as she now prefers to be called) is four years younger . We went back to Berkeley, where Lisa was born. I did not work for the next two years. I had been accepted into the history graduate program at Berkeley, which is where my husband was enrolled. At this point he was working on his Ph.D in history. I thought I was going to be a college professor like he was (he taught in the history department at Howard upon our return in 1964 and following our second return from Berkeley in 1968).
Because our baby was expected in October (which would be after the semester began in September), I deferred for a semester, and by the time the second semester rolled around, I decided I didn’t really want to leave Lisa or become a history professor. I stayed at home with Lisa until we went back to Washington again in ’68. I started my first job in Washington at that point, a position that Pat Harris actually was responsible for getting me with the President’s Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. It was an offshoot of the Kerner Commission. I was a research associate studying juvenile delinquency.
Prior to that President Johnson had appointed Patricia Roberts Harris as ambassador in Luxembourg. She left that position and became one of the Commission members. When I first consulted her about finding a job somewhere in Washington, she told me she was appalled by the fact that a number of the Commissioners and staff had brought relatives onto the staff. Few were people of color. She arranged for me to be a member of the staff (1968-69). That led me next to the Council of the Great City Schools where I worked on its race (and later gender) equity issues. Title IX of the Education Amendments was enacted in 1972. Before then I had not spent any time professionally or otherwise on issues involving gender discrimination.
Because the Council of Great City Schools first focused on racial segregation and discrimination in elementary and secondary schools, we decided we also needed to develop some expertise in gender discrimination in education. I read with both fascination and distress about – discrimination against women and girls in elementary, secondary schools and colleges. But my major focus continued to be on racial discrimination. I was assigned the task of providing technical assistance to member school districts in the south and in the north and west that had segregated schools, either by law or de facto. I advised these districts about programs to desegregate voluntarily or under court order. Later, we added to my work the issue of providing technical assistance on eliminating gender discrimination pursuant to Title IX. I worked at the Council of Great City Schools until 1974 when I entered law school.
JWaxman: So how did you get to law school?
JW: I was providing testimony in court cases and to school boards on the rationale for school desegregation and on some of the methodologies for desegregating schools. I also spent a lot of time talking to individual school superintendents and board members. Most of them had higher degrees and I was feeling very uncomfortable providing advice to them and was concerned about my credibility because I had only a B.A. degree. When I was in college, I’d done some work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund helping the organization and its lawyers locate files on various cases at the newly created Equal Opportunity Opportunity Commission. During my time at the Council, I also consulted on occasion with lawyers at the Legal Defense Fund on cases they were litigating. Based on my insecurities about not having an advanced degree and my work with lawyers at the Defense Fund, I decided to go to law school with the expectation I would come back to the job that I had and be better prepared to do it with the credentials that would make me more credible. Two years before I went to law school, I had become the director of the Council’s equity programs and I was really enjoying it and wanted to continue the work after law school.
So, I went to law school and discovered that I not only had this great interest in civil rights in an educational setting, but also in what the law could do generally to eliminate race and gender discrimination. I was a full-time law student, but I worked part time with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. I worked most closely with a lawyer named Norman Chachkin, whom I had met at the Legal Defense Fund. He’d come to Washington to work with the Lawyers Committee as Co-Director with Cindy Brown of the Federal Education Project. I worked on this project during my second and third year as a law student. One of the issues, Norman and Cindy were looking at was discrimination against women, girls and students of color in vocational education programs.
They and Phyllis McClure, who was at the Legal Defense Fund, directed me to the Center for Law and Social Policy, where I met Marcia Greenberger. She and they were guiding me on how to do research on the legislative history of the Vocational Education Act. This was the beginning of my introduction to how women and girls were steered into vocational education courses and other women centered jobs.
By the time I entered law school in 1974, both of our daughters had been born. One was three and one was seven, so I had this responsibility, along with my husband, for running a household. So, there I was, getting my law degree, running a household and taking care of these two little girls. My husband was teaching a the University with a full and demanding class load. I think this is when I became really keenly aware of my feminist instincts and concerns. Some days, I would feel really put upon — doing all of these things and believing I was not doing any of them very well. I think most of us feminists recognize and experience this dilemma.
From the beginning, my work as a lawyer has included looking at policy and legal issues related to race and gender discrimination in education. When I left law school, I went to work for David Tatel (now a Judge on the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit). He had been one of the co-chairs of the Lawyers’ Committee and was subsequently appointed by President Carter as the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. At HEW, for the first six months, I worked most directly with Norman Chachkin who was a deputy to David. After recruiting me to the position at the end of law school, and just before I took the position while studying for the bar exam, Norman informed me he was leaving HEW because he couldn’t stand the glacial way the government operated. When Norman left, I was assigned to work directly with David as his special assistant.
At that time, one of the several big issues included the desegregation of higher education. A lawsuit against the Department of HEW brought by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others had been ongoing for some time challenging the Department’s enforcement of both Title VI (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) – that was the Adams lawsuit. There was another ongoing lawsuit that had been brought on behalf of the Women’s Educational Action League challenging the Department’s enforcement of Title IX. Marcia Greenberger was one of the chief litigators on behalf of the women plaintiffs in that case. I had a lot of interaction with Marcia and Norman Chachkin (who had returned to the Lawyers’ Committee), and other lawyers involved in these two lawsuits whose names are well-known within the civil rights community including Judy Lichtman (at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund).
Through this work, I was learning about the many ways in which we women and girls at that time experienced discrimination, the extent to which our careers were blocked by men in power who thought we had no place in the law or many other places outside of the home. That was a great experience for me. I subsequently went to work with Eleanor Holmes Norton (another great feminist) at the EEOC to learn something about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination in employment) and the way in which discrimination on the basis of race and gender manifested itself in places of employment. I worked on affirmative action issues when I worked for Eleanor as her executive assistant and legal counsel. Mostly it was work on policy, although there were some litigation issues that I had some input on. I’m not a litigator. I’ve never been a litigator, but I’ve worked on briefs at the appellate level as amicus in a number of the positions that I held.
JWaxman: I do need to ask you, is there any wider policy effort that you’ve worked on that particularly stands out during that time?
JW: There was not a single policy effort. I view my major accomplishments as having worked in a progression of gradually more substantial positions of leadership on these issues. I have always been laser focused on race and gender discrimination. If I had to name the most important wider policy issue, it would be my work in the wars on affirmative action in education. I found that effort the most gratifying. And I think perhaps my biggest accomplishment, not that I did anything by myself, was when I went to the U.S. Department of Education as general counsel in 1993 in the Clinton administration. Affirmative action litigation was burning hot and the Department of Education had to issue guidance on affirmative action. I worked very, very closely with the assistant secretary for civil rights and members of my staff and her staff on coming up with guidance on affirmative action for colleges and universities. I also worked on the task force on affirmative action in the White House headed by Chris Edley and George Stephanopoulas (resulting in a report on the Clinton Administration policy on affirmative action to “mend it, not end it”).
The issue itself became the subject of two very important Supreme Court cases out of the University of Michigan (Grutter and Gratz). I worked with a coalition of organizations and I spent a lot time of time working with the staff of the University of Michigan and its consultants. I want to be careful though about not taking credit where credit is not due. The thing that was a highlight in my work on affirmative action was my work with John Payton who litigated one of those cases (Grutter) and Ted Shaw who was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The three of us were among a larger group of civil rights advocates, who, some years later, traveled to Chile, Brazil and Uruguay to consult with United Nations, NGOs, and government officials about our work on affirmative action, race and equity in education in the United States. Affirmative action was something that was being considered particularly in Brazil. John Payton, Ted Shaw and I were asked to assist Gay McDougall then Executive Director of Global Rights in sharing our expertise with Brazilians also working on affirmative action in their country. My experience as general counsel made it possible later to have those international experiences, and so it was a very fulfilling time for me all the way through.
My most important accomplishment in my personal life is helping with the development of our two daughters, who are just extraordinary women. Lisa used to read my casebooks to me when I was a first-year law student because I was so nervous about being back in school. It had been eight years since I graduated from college before I went to law school. She was a wonderful reader at seven and eight. She’d ask these wonderful questions I could not answer as a law student. I always tell people, she read torts in my first year and commercial law my second year.
She said that was the beginning of her deep interest in becoming a lawyer and she went on to Stanford University as an undergraduate, excelled, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and had all kinds of honors, and then went to the Harvard Law School, where she excelled and graduated with honors. In addition to practicing as a labor and employment lawyer working on employment discrimination cases, she became a partner in a Dallas law firm. She’s recently retired after holding the the positions of executive vice president, corporate secretary and general counsel for a large para-transit transportation company in Dallas with offices around the world and the United States.
Though retired from her positions of executive vice-president, corporate secretary and general counsel, she is now chairperson of the board of this transportation company. She says she is retired, but I think she’s working as hard as she did when she was working full time. Our youngest daughter is a professor of psychology at Howard University. She went to Howard as an undergraduate, elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned a BS degree in psychology. Within four-years of her college graduation she earned a Masters degree and PhD from the University of Michigan. Her research interests include narrative personality psychology particularly as it relates to identity issues among women and women of color in academia and corporations.
She has been helping lots of women through her research and business efforts to create their own narrative, that is, not to be defined by someone else, to understand their own capabilities and worth. As a psychology student and later professor of psychology, her research centered on issues of racial identity and success. She recognized that a lot of professionals in her field focused on academic failure and low achievement among black students. She focused on the number of black professionals especially in STEM fields, who achieved great success despite the many barriers they faced as black students and professionals. That research has expanded and she is applying it in the context of professional women in business and the academy many of whom are women of color.
I’m very proud of what they do, and we’ve had a number of conversations about our work and experience together. In fact, I’ve been on panels with both of them, in which we shared our sense of how we have managed to become successful as women, as lawyers and as professors in a man’s world. Some of those panels have been eye-opening for me. For example, my youngest daughter and I were once on a panel to talk about how we were influenced by each other in our professional choices. We were asked not to talk to one another before our presentations about what we intended to say.
My younger daughter said she and her sister once thought that they never could be successful professional women. She said: “my mother did everything and we just felt we couldn’t live up to that. We never thought we could be successful because we couldn’t do all the things she did to raise a family, manage a household, cook dinner every night, be a successful lawyer, make our prom dresses, etc.” I responded by saying I was just floored by that because while I was doing all that I was exhausted. Most of the time I felt I wasn’t doing any of it well. I was waiting for the big failure. I was sort of winging it both at home and in the office, feeling I didn’t read enough, did not respond well enough to issues in the office. And, here they thought I was “super mom” and I thought I was an “imposter”.
It was such an eye opener. I was trying to be the role model, but the role model was just too big, they felt, for them to live up to. I’ve counseled my daughters and other young women and I’ve counseled a number of young men of color. People come to me and say, “Well, how did you do it?” I say, “I learned something through difficult experiences about how to present myself as a professional woman.” Sure, it’s important to get the substance of our profession, in my case the law, down. But, in my view, the most important thing for me was learning how to act like lawyers who are white men. Acting confident, appearing always well prepared, sometimes even brash but, hopefully, not losing sight of who we are. I’ve explained that I have never been in any meeting of more than two or three people or had any speaking engagements where I didn’t have great butterflies in my stomach. And it’s still true. I also recommended that you avoid, where possible, apologizing.
During the first few years of my marriage, my father-in-law used to call me Miss Pardon Me, because almost every sentence I started was with an apology. So, I counseled my daughters and mentees not to do that. And when you’ve presented yourself and you haven’t read as much as you would have liked to, that’s fine. You go with what you have. Imagine that there’s a paddle in your stomach and as you’re speaking, the paddle is slowly, slowly crushing those butterflies. And what happens is your voice becomes steadier and you begin to speak with great authority, even if you don’t believe you have it. What you will probably find is that you know more than anybody in that audience or room.
I was teaching law school some years later, at the Washington College of Law, American University, and was advised by one of my female colleagues there who was also something of a mentor to me, don’t ever say to your students that you don’t know the answer to a question they may ask. After that, both in practice, at meetings and when I was teaching, if somebody asked me a question I didn’t know an answer to I would say “that’s a really good question. What do you think?” I would do that in meetings with lawyers in my office when I was general counsel.
There was a lot of skepticism among some of the male lawyers in my office when I became general counsel at the US Department of Education. There had been other women in the position but never a Black woman. Many of the men (and I suppose some of the women too) had all of the superstitions that people tend to have about women of color and men of color in their profession. I had law students in my class, young men, questioning my knowledge. For example, there were a couple of students who in their evaluations of my teaching said they resented the fact that I was teaching civil procedure from the perspective of a Black woman. I always wondered whose perspective they thought I should have.
The other interesting thing that happened in law school when I was teaching was that some students were complaining about the fact that I introduced race into my fact patterns on their law school exams. I had one fact pattern in a question about class actions that involved a class of African-Americans who were protesting police brutality [this was in 1990-1991, by the way]. The question was what constitutes the class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? What are the elements of the class? This was a basic aspect in the law of civil class action litigation. Students said I had introduced race into the exam and therefore had given some students an unfair advantage. So, according to them, I guess, if you’re talking about a class action lawsuit that involves African-Americans and you’re an African American law student then you must know something that we (white students) don’t. It was just astounding to me.
JWaxman: You were ahead of your time!
JW: I was. So, in summary, after law school I went to HEW and then I went to the EEOC. And from there I was invited to become a career lawyer at the newly established Department of Education. I was there from ‘80 to ‘86 as an assistant general counsel, again, working on issues ranging from affirmative action, issues of race, advising the secretary on legal matters that came to her or him on those issues. I left the department in ’86 even though I loved my job; I had a wonderful staff of lawyers working with me. But this was during the Reagan administration, which was very hostile to civil rights. I felt like we were defendants having to justify the policies that we had earlier established. It was quite awful, actually, not unlike some of the things that are happening today in these federal offices.
My husband said, we don’t have a dog to kick around when you come home irate from working with the Reagan appointees, so you need to find a new husband or find a new job. So, I decided to find a new job. And I went to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights as a deputy director (replacing Norman Chachkin, by the way). I left there to go to the Women’s Legal Defense Fund with Judy Lichtman. I was deputy director for policy. I worked on a number of gender discrimination issues, including the Family Medical Leave Act, which Donna Lenhoff was the lead on. I did work on that and worked in coalition with the members of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
It was after the Women’s Legal Defense Fund that I went to teach at American University’s Washington College of Law and stayed there until I was confirmed by the Senate to be the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration. I served in that position from 1993 to the end of the Clinton administration in 2001. I also took on the position of undersecretary. So, I was undersecretary and general counsel concurrently during the last two years of the Clinton administration.
During my stint as General Counsel at the Department, President Clinton asked me to come to the White House and become the executive director of his race initiative (President Clinton’s One America Race Initiative). I took a leave of absence from the Department of Education. The role of Executive Director of the Race Initiative was a job that almost killed me. I was simply not prepared for responding to all the political implications of guiding my staff through the complexities of race and talking about race. I did not sleep through the night during my first three months in the position. Moreover, there was a fair degree of hostility across the federal government when asked to examine and revise policies that we in the Initiative identified as discriminatory in effect and exacerbating disparities on the basis of race. When I finally left the Clinton administration in 2001, I went back to teaching for a year as a research professor of law at American University, where I intended to stay for a while. But I realized that I missed talking to other adults about policies and legal issues outside of my course work with law students.
In 2003, as I was contemplating moving on, I had the good fortune of receiving a call from a fellow who had been the general counsel of the Defense Department during the Clinton Administration (Harold Kwalwasser). He had become the General Counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He asked me if I would be interested in being the Washington counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District. That led to my decision to open a law firm where I would represent the Los Angeles Unified School District and provide legal advice on federal education matters to school districts and colleges and universities. I invited my former colleague, Claudia Withers, to join me at the firm. I had worked with Claudia at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and she had been one of my deputy general counsels at the Department of Education. She is a wonderful, smart lawyer who is also a feminist. Claudia and I opened Winston, Withers and Associates, a limited liability law firm in 2003. She worked on employment discrimination matters, court-ordered sexual harassment training, and other issues under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and I worked on school matters. In addition to representing the Los Angeles Unified School District, I did some work on affirmative action issues for M.I.T. , Wesleyan University in Connecticut and the Oregon Health and Sciences University.
JWaxman: And these affirmative actions are both race and gender?
JW: Yes. My clients had considerable concerns about how to implement the recent Supreme Court affirmative action decisions, particularly the Grutter decision. However, affirmative action based on gender was not something that has been nearly as controversial in terms of higher education, as has race. In most colleges and universities, the percentage of women enrolled was often significant. Gender discrimination and the standards for evaluating the legality of affirmative action on the basis of gender did surface often when I worked with the Women’s Legal Defense Fund as a volunteer — even before I became a staff member. I had earlier volunteered to work on the Fund’s Screening Committee. The Screening Committee recommended to the Fund cases it might take on for litigation and all involved gender discrimination of some kind such as in hiring, job assignments, pay rates, etc.
I feel as though my professional life was really happily focused on the things that I cared most about. I felt as though I was making a contribution, whether it was a volunteer effort or whether it was being paid as a lawyer to do these things: addressing and helping to resolve race and gender discrimination and the disparities that exist for women and people of color in all aspects of our life in America. That’s pretty much my story.
JWaxman: Anything else before we close?
JW: I closed my law office in 2007, that was the year our first grandchild was born. My daughter and her husband lived in Dallas. I didn’t want any clients interfering with my ability to go to Dallas any time that I wanted. From time to time, and particularly during this pandemic, I think, I’m retired and now have nothing much to do in my profession. What does it mean that I don’t remember half of the things that I once knew that were important in my teaching and in my practice? What has my life added up to? Well, your invitation for me to engage in this interview has helped me to answer those questions and in a good way. It has been quite healthy for me to go through my resumé and think about my life as I was anticipating this discussion. I realize I’ve had quite a full, rewarding life as a lawyer and as a woman. And, it’s not over.