Legal fees from the battle to admit Shannon Faulkner will go to Women's Rights Project

October 4, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–Shearman & Sterling, the law firm that led the court battle to admit women to The Citadel and helped the American Civil Liberties Union to litigate the case, has given the ACLU more than $1 million to continue its legal efforts on behalf of women.

The money comes from an out-of-court settlement reached after a federal court awarded $4.5 million to Shearman & Sterling, the ACLU, and other plaintiff lawyers who fought the civil rights battle to admit Shannon Faulkner and other women into the all-male military college.

The ACLU said it will use the money to add a new director and a legal support staff person to the Women’s Rights Project, which has won numerous important court challenges to gender discrimination over nearly three decades, including, most recently:

* A $375,000 jury award to a Maryland state trooper who, because he is male, was refused extended leave to care for his newborn daughter, in a case brought with the ACLU of Maryland;

* A federal court injunction allowing two high school students to join the National Honor Society after school officials barred them because one was pregnant and one was a mother;

* An agreement by a major New York caterer to end its practice of assigning only male waiters to work at highly compensated society parties (a common industry practice) and to pay $350,000 in damages to hundreds of women waiters.

ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser said the $1 million has brought about “a transformational moment” for the Women’s Rights Project.

Sara L. Mandelbaum, an attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project who helped litigate The Citadel case, added that the $1 million will be a tremendous boon to the Project’s economic justice program at a time when the government’s assault on poor women continues unabated.”

Henry Weisburg, a Shearman & Sterling partner who helped litigate The Citadel case, said the law firm was delighted the money would go toward issues related to those raised by Shannon Faulkner’s challenge. “The Citadel case was as much about equal economic and political opportunity for women as it was about women becoming soldiers,” he said. “The Citadel has long been a portal to career advancement and political office in South Carolina and the Southeast.”

The ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project was founded by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1971, more than two decades before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg later wrote the Supreme Court opinion admitting women to the Virginia Military Institute in a case that raised issues similar to The Citadel’s. From its inception, the Project has played a pivotal role in securing gender equality through a series of landmark lawsuits.

The Citadel case was one of the most hotly contested civil rights battles in recent history. It began in 1993 when the school rescinded Ms. Faulkner’s admission offer after learning of her gender. The ACLU sued The Citadel, which receives state and federal funds, for sex discrimination.

Shearman & Sterling – an international law firm that represents corporations, financial institutions and governments – has more than 850 lawyers in offices across the world, including more than 95 litigators. The firm agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis, contributing lawyer time and financing much of the litigation cost. Under a federal law aimed at encouraging lawyers to take on costly litigation in the public interest, the firm and the ACLU were entitled to apply for reimbursement if it prevailed.

According to court papers, The Citadel, its alumni and South Carolina spent more than $13 million in the effort. This included $7 million to convert another college into a “separate but equal” women’s military college in a failed attempt to eliminate the court challenge.

“All this so that a state-supported institution could deny a 17-year-old her rights as an American citizen,” said Weisburg. “Few women would be able to counter this kind of firepower without the backing of institutions like Shearman & Sterling and the ACLU. We are pleased that this money will enable the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project to aid women in similar circumstances.”

“It’s the first time in a long time we have been able to expand the Project’s staffing and caseload.” Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU’s Legal Director, added. “This money will allow us to double the resources we can devote to issues of gender equality, and to bolster our ability to challenge unlawful economic barriers to women.”

Although Ms. Faulkner left The Citadel shortly after enrolling, she effectively integrated the 157-year-old school. Since her departure in 1995, more than 300 women have applied, more than 225 have been accepted and more than 93 have enrolled. The Citadel, which graduated its first female cadet in May, has indicated that this year is likely to produce the largest overall applicant pool in its history.

Stephen R. Volk, Shearman & Sterling’s Senior Partner, said the firm will continue to work to help advance women’s economic rights. The firm has established a fund with the remainder of its Citadel fees for other causes that advance women’s economic rights. “We feel privileged to have taken part in this historic case,” he said. “But there’s still a great deal of unfinished business in this important area.”

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