By Ryan Sexton
“I always wanted to be a lawyer,” says Joanna Grossman, an associate professor in the Hofstra School of Law. “I definitely have a very combative personality!”
She has used this passion to fight against sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in the workplace. To Grossman, it is mystifying that despite the amount of legal work done to eradicate sexual harassment, “it still continues to have a pervasive effect on women’s experience in the workplace.” Over time, she says, “there’s been very little actual reduction in sexual harassment.”
In addition to sexual harassment, Grossman is interested in other areas of discrimination and in family law. “I’m very interested in the way law affects individual lives,” she says. “That’s a sort of over-arching theme to the kind of work that I do.” Though she’s had plenty of high points in her career, she says her most recent was during her tenure at the University. “What I like most about teaching law is providing the structure,” she says.
While many Hofstra students were trying to score tickets to the Presidential Debate, Grossman was pushing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 in Washington, D.C. Lily Ledbetter was once an ordinary production supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. When she left in 1998, she was waiting on feedback from a pay discrimination complaint she had filed. In the end, it was discovered that she often received as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts, even ones ranking slightly lower than her.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where, sadly for Ledbetter, it was shot down based on a time limitation. In most states, action had to be taken within 180 days of receipt of pay deemed discriminatory. Grossman became an advocate for revamping the law to make that time limitation much more realistic.
On January 29, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law. “I had the opportunity to be in the White House the day they were doing anything important for the first time,” says Grossman. Although the law won’t directly benefit Mrs. Ledbetter, it will likely help women for years to come.
For the full story, check out the Spring 2009 issue of Pulse, available now