Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Yankoskie v. Lenker Pennsylvania Superior Court (1987)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Plaintiff sought a protective order from her ex-boyfriend. The two had lived together but the plaintiff subsequently moved out to her own apartment with their three children. Plaintiff filed a petition for a protection order after her ex-boyfriend entered her apartment with her permission, became so drunk that he attempted to assault her, broke their infant son’s leg, and shoved his other son’s face against a door. The Court of Common Pleas denied plaintiff’s petition. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiff adequately demonstrated that her ex-boyfriend attempted to physically harm her and did cause her sons bodily injury. Further, even though the parties did not live together, the defendant had legal access to the plaintiff’s apartment; permissive entry is a form of legal access. The court thus found that it could issue a protective order in this situation and it reversed the court’s ruling.



College-Town, Div. of Interco, Inc. v. Mass. Comm’n Against Discrimination Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Here, an employer appealed the superior court’s decision that it discriminated against an employee on the basis of sex.  A few weeks after College-Town hired the employee, Rizzi, Rizzi’s supervisor began making sexually suggestive comments to her.  Once he touched her back, and another time he put his hand over a slit in her dress and told her to fix her skirt.  On one occasion, Rizzi asked her supervisor to review her performance in a meeting and he told her that she handled it well and that he “liked the way [her] tits stood out in the red shirt.”  Once, he asked her if she was a good f----.  Rizzi then spoke to the director of manufacturing, who told her he was “not qualified to go into these things,” and refused to talk to her.  Rizzi had to wait several days before she could tell someone else at work.  A College-Town executive finally spoke with the supervisor about the allegations, which were denied.  A meeting was held to determine the truth of the allegations, which the supervisor and all other women in the department attended except for Rizzi.  She was not asked to the meeting or notified of its occurrence.  At the meeting, the supervisor explained the allegations and Rizzi’s co-workers were generally supportive of the supervisor.  College-Town made no further investigation.  Prior to that meeting, Rizzi sought a promotion to a position in another department.  After the meeting was held, Rizzi was informed she was not qualified for the promotion and College-Town hired someone with more knowledge and experience.  Soon thereafter, College-Town attempted to transfer Rizzi as tension in the office was affecting productivity and she declined.  Rizzi was never told the transfer was mandatory, and within weeks of her denial, she was discharged. The trial court found that College-Town’s supervisor created a sexually harassing work environment, it failed to remedy the situation, and it retaliated against the employee in its attempt to transfer her and discharge her once she declined the transfer.  Id. at 158.  The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed the decision and found that sexual harassment may constitute discrimination under Gen. L. C. 151B, §4(1), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender.



Ford v. Revlon, Inc. Arizona Supreme Court (1987)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff Ford’s supervisor, Karl Braun, began to sexually harass Ford at a dinner on April 3, 1980, where Braun told Ford that she would regret it if she didn’t sleep with him. At a company picnic a month later, Braun said to Ford: “I want to fuck you, Leta,” and restrained her in a chokehold, from which Ford eventually escaped. Despite Ford having reported the harassment to regional management later than month and to headquarters in November, 1980, no action was taken until Braun’s employment was terminated in October, 1981, almost a year and a half after plaintiff’s original complaints. During this period Braun’s continuing threats led to Ford developing symptoms of emotional stress such as high blood pressure and chest pains.



State v. Friedrich Wisconsin Supreme Court (1987)

Sexual violence and rape

Defendant was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault for assaulting his 14-year old niece by marriage.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the trial court correctly refused to allow a psychologist for the defense to testify that the defendant did not fit the psychological profile of incestuous sex offenders.  It held that testimony regarding defendant’s sex acts against minors was admissible.  It also held that testimony by an adult woman of defendant’s 13, although an error, was harmless error.  The court agreed that the testimony of the two individuals regarding sex acts against minors was admissible because it showed a “general scheme or motive to obtain sexual gratification from young girls” under Wisconsin evidentiary law.  It agreed that admitting the testimony of the woman who alleged 13 was error since it did not similarly show a general scheme, but that admission was harmless error since it was not possible that the error contributed to the defendant’s conviction.  The court noted that the trial court applies a two step process to determine whether evidence of other crimes is admissible, looking at whether it falls into one of the exceptions listed in the applicable statute, and second determining whether prejudice outweighs the probative value of the evidence.  Additionally, in sex crime cases involving children, the court noted that there is “greater latitude of proof as to other like occurrences.”



International Case Law

Zwaan-de Vries v. The Netherlands Human Rights Committee (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

F.H. Zwaan-de Vries is a Netherlands national who worked for several years before becoming unemployed. Zwaan-de Vries qualified for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Act until 1979, at which time she applied for continued support through the Unemployment Benefits Act (WWV). The Municipality of Amsterdam rejected her application in accordance with section 13 subsection 1 of WWV (the “breadwinner” clause) because she was a married woman. The WWV provision that required applicants to prove that they are the family’s “breadwinner” in order to qualify for benefits did not apply to married men. On appeal, the Municipality of Amsterdam affirmed the rejection, after which the author appealed to the Board of Appeal in Amsterdam. The Board of Appeals held that Zwaan-de Vries’ complaint was invalid, and the Central Board of Appeal affirmed this holding. In her complaint to the Committee, Zwaan-de Vries argued that the Netherlands violated article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In interpreting the scope of article 26, the Committee took into account the “ordinary meaning” of each element of the article in its context and in light of its object and purpose, noting that article 26 derives from the principle of equal protection of the law without discrimination as contained in article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, article 26 is concerned with the obligations imposed on States in regard to their legislation and its application. The Committee cited Hendrika Vos v. The Netherlands for the principle that differentiation based on reasonable and objective criteria does not amount to prohibited discrimination within the meaning of article 26. However, since the WWV required only women to prove their status as “breadwinner”, the differentiation was not reasonable. Therefore, the Netherlands violated article 26 of the Convention when it denied Zwaan de Vries a social security benefit on an equal footing with men.