How Ann Hopkins’ 1984 Lawsuit Changed Gender Bias Rulings

Ann Hopkins

Ann Branigar Hopkins, who had won a major workplace-discrimination case in the US Supreme Court that went on to form the basis of later gender-discrimination rulings, died recently at her home in Washington. She was 74.

Tela Gallagher Mathias, her daughter revealed that she died due to sensory peripheral neuronopathy, a kind of nerve disorder. Here’s why we should know about Hopkins and her work.

Who was she?

Hopkins was born on December 18, 1943, in Galveston, Texas. Her mother was a nurse while her father was an Army officer.

She did her bachelor’s in mathematics from Hollins University, Virginia. Her masters’ degree was also in mathematics from Indiana University.

She joined the Washington office of the old Price Waterhouse accounting firm in 1978. Hopkins used to develop computer system for the clients, reported The Washington Post.

She was also given the responsibility to get a very important contract for the company. The contract was with the State Department and was worth up to $44 million.

The job evaluations of her company termed her as “a terribly hard worker” and “one of the very best”.

She soon became one of the top consultants of the company.

In 1982, among 88 candidates for partnership at the Price Waterhouse, Hopkins was the only woman. The firm was one of the biggest at that time.

Partnership rejected as she wasn’t ‘very feminine’

However, Hopkins’ partnership was rejected and it was clearly not because of the way she worked.

She questioned the rejection in court and her lawyers argued that she was considered “too macho” and less “ladylike”.

Hopkins smoked, drank beer and didn’t carry her husband’s last name. She is also known to ride a motorcycle to an interview appointment.

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Hopkins was also called “pushy” and “overbearing” and was told to get “a course in charm school” due to her language.

A male boss, who had recommended her name for promotion, advised that she should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear makeup, have her hair styled and wear jewellery”

Challenged her rejection

In 1984, Hopkins filed a job-discrimination lawsuit.

After resigning from Price Waterhouse, she joined the World Bank as a budget planner.

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She won the case in 1985. Federal Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said there was “discriminatory stereotyping of females” and concluded that “comments influenced by sex stereotypes” was the reason why Hopkins was denied her partnership.

Her fight to end gender stereotyping

She then challenged the case in the US Supreme Court, demanding $1.2 million as damages or her old job back.

Coming out in her support, the American Psychological Association did a detailed research, including about 100 studies on stereotyping by gender.

In 1989, the court said that the employers will have to prove that their job appointments are based on merit and not due to discriminatory notions, which also include gender.

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This was the first time the court recognised that gender stereotyping was also a form of discrimination.

In addition to this, Hopkins got her job and her partnership back seven years after it was rejected. She also got more than $370,000 as her back payment.

In 1988, she had told The Washington Post, “I had no choice but to sue, I had to do this as a matter of principle. It was inevitable and predictable. I did not set out to be a leader.”

Hopkins retired in 2002.

However, her case made history as it was later used to address other gender discrimination cases which also sometimes involved gays and transgender people.

Picture Credit: The New York Times

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Kriti Dwivedi is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv