One Little Word

By Joan M. Burda

When GPSolo’s Editorial Board started talking about this issue, the article ideas just flowed. But we discovered a problem when we tried e-mailing issue updates to one another on the Board’s listserve: The messages kept bouncing back. Fearing that our listserve’s digital subconscious might have some sort of hang-up about the word “sex” in an e-mail’s subject line, we began substituting the word “s*x”. When those messages began bouncing back, too, it became clear that our listserve was simply suffering from some unrelated electronic hiccup (since cured). Still, the fact that we would jump to our initial conclusion demonstrates the enduring power of that one little word—if only in our own minds.

This issue also brings back jennifer j. rose as the issue editor and the Board’s Assistant Editor. She’s done a remarkable job with what could be construed as a potentially difficult subject—if only because of the issue’s title. But, then, it’s Jennifer, and we expect nothing less.

This issue runs the gamut from discrimination in firms through fertility issues and loss of consortium. You can read about current legal developments on marriage laws for same-sex couples and sexual harassment laws. Top it off with pieces on fraudulent marriages and Title IX.

Speaking of Title IX, and this is a personal note (one of the perks of having a column), it didn’t exist when I was in school, back in the 1900s. I was not allowed to play softball in college because I wasn’t a phys ed major. For the women’s teams, only phys ed majors were eligible to play. There were no scholarships, and the women were responsible for paying for their uniforms, equipment, and all expenses traveling to games. The men’s teams traveled at university expense. I remember the women’s swim team went to the same meets as the men. The men traveled at university expense, stayed in hotels, and had their meals paid for. The women? They bunked with the host team in the dorms, paid for their meals in the dining halls . . . and brought home the medals. Last I checked, there is no men’s swim team at Bowling Green State University.

So, I’m glad Larry Ramirez wrote the Title IX article. The act is still controversial, 25 years later.

You’d think that lawyers would know the law. It is, after all, what we do. Yet, lawyers, courts, and law schools can be just as challenged when it comes to sex discrimination and sexual harassment as anyone else. You might have seen the piece from the ABA Journal Daily News ( about the Chicago lawyer who advertised for a secretary on Craigslist in the “Adult Gigs” section and then sent a follow-up letter to a female respondent, informing her that she “would be required to have sexual interaction” with him and his partner. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Illinois Supreme Court investigated and charged him with . . . lying to them about the original ad. Apparently, it’s much worse to lie about what he did than that he did it. That speaks volumes.

Americans have definite problems with sex. We talk about it a lot, and we do like to watch. We also like to use it when subjecting other people to discrimination and harassment. In a lot of ways, we’re still as anxious and silly about the topic as any junior high school student.

Sex is used as a weapon by men against women, by women against men, and by adults against children; yet, we let the silly stuff get in the way of dealing with serious issues.

Arguments are made against laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, claiming they are “special rights.” We pass laws because there is discrimination, and people discriminate unless they are told they cannot—and there are penalties.

Title VII includes “sex” as a category not because Congress was concerned about women, but because some politicians thought it was a way to derail the legislation. They were surprised when it passed. No one thought about including women in that civil rights law. Even today, some folks think sexual harassment and discrimination are still acceptable in the workplace.

A former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Puerto Rico has filed a sexual harassment and discrimination case against the U.S. Attorney. He (that’s right, the plaintiff is male) states there was a “girls club” in the office and the female U.S. Attorney discriminated against him. As in all such cases, she denies it.

Life might have seemed so much easier when want ads listed jobs for men and those for women. I always thought the men’s jobs looked more interesting. The law “protected” women by restricting where and when they could work. Until you’ve been subjected to discrimination or harassment, you really don’t understand. That became evident when a U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated that a strip search of a 13-year-old girl wasn’t that bad. He believed “she’d get over it.” The majority of the Court didn’t agree with his take on the topic.

Let me know what you think about the issue. You can reach me at

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