NEW YORK--The ACLU today announced the appointment of Lenora Lapidus as director of its Women's Rights Project, which was founded in 1971 by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Twelve years ago, as a law student intern in the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, Lapidus learned first-hand about discrimination against blue-collar working women. Today, as newly appointed director of the Project, she is ready to take on fresh battles on behalf of working women and those living in poverty, in a world where many still face gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and a disintegrating safety net for themselves and their children.
"What struck me during my summer at the ACLU was the courage it took for these women to come forward from the factory floor and demand equal treatment," said Lapidus, who became the Director of the Women's Rights Project in March.
"Today, women at all income levels are still facing barriers to advancement, and in some ways these challenges are harder than ever because there are some people who think that discrimination against women no longer exists. Sadly, that's just not true."
Lapidus, 37, is familiar with the ACLU not just through her long-ago internship, but from the four-and-a-half years she spent in her previous position as Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. There, she developed a substantial legal docket on a broad range of civil liberties issues, including women's rights.
"Lenora was a top-notch lawyer at the ACLU of New Jersey and we are delighted to have someone with her skills, energy and commitment at the helm of the Women's Rights Project," said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the national ACLU.
One of Lapidus' first legal actions involves a case out of the past: she is representing flight attendants from a successful pregnancy discrimination lawsuit the Women's Rights Project filed in 1980 against Trans World Airlines and settled in 1995. TWA recently filed for bankruptcy and was bought out by American Airlines, which is refusing to honor the settlement agreement that provided free travel vouchers for the flight attendants.
"A lawyer asked me what the ACLU was doing in the middle of an airline bankruptcy proceeding in Delaware, and I told him that we have a moral as well as legal obligation to make sure our clients get what they were promised as compensation for the discrimination they suffered," Lapidus said.
That commitment has been steadfast not just since the founding of the Project in 1971, but throughout the ACLU's 81-year history, according to Ira Glasser, Executive Director of the ACLU.
"One might even describe the ACLU as prematurely feminist," Glasser said, noting that suffragists and other women social reformers and political activists were instrumental in the founding of the organization in 1920.
Looking forward, Lapidus said the deadline of the five-year limit on welfare benefits this fall could have a catastrophic effect on single women with children. She is currently litigating a challenge to New Jersey's Child Exclusion law, which denies benefits to children born into families that are already receiving welfare. She is also looking closely at welfare-to-work programs where some women have reportedly been steered into dead-end jobs and away from higher-paying, traditionally male blue-collar work.
In addition, Lapidus will continue to work on the legal team representing two African American women who were profiled at local airports because of their race and gender, in two separate cases that originated while she was Legal Director of the ACLU's New Jersey affiliate. Other members of the team include attorneys from the ACLU National legal staff and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
And in the U.S. Supreme Court, Lapidus and the ACLU are eagerly awaiting a ruling in Nguyen v. INS, a challenge to a federal law that imposes different standards on fathers than on mothers for conferring citizenship on their foreign-born and out-of-wedlock children. The ACLU is co-counsel in the case; a legal brief is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/nguyen.pdf
Lapidus is a 1990 graduate, cum laude, of Harvard Law School; she received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University.
The ACLU is a national public interest organization headquartered in New York City. The ACLU's Women's Rights Project is dedicated to the advancement of the rights and interests of women, with a particular emphasis on issues affecting low-income women and women of color. The Project has been an active participant in virtually all of the major gender discrimination litigation in the Supreme Court, in Congressional and public education efforts to remedy gender discrimination, and other endeavors on behalf of women.
A history of the project is online at http://archive.aclu.org/issues/women/womhist.html.