In 1999, when Lois Jenson was featured as an MWP Newsmaker, the landmark sexual harassment class action lawsuit that began with her 1984 complaint to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights had been settled for only one year. She told MWP then-editor, Cynthia Scott, that she felt 400 years old—but she used to feel 1,000.
Today Jenson feels her age. “Now I’m 56,” she laughed. “The health has improved and the mind has improved.”
The debilitating stress Jenson suffered during the years of harassment at Eveleth Mines and the years of legal action stayed with her long after the settlement. “My immune system was so far gone,” she explained. “I had pneumonia a lot, [and] colds … a lot of physical pain from injuries, and something like chronic fatigue.”
To get her strength back, Jenson became something of a recluse. “I had to concentrate and say no to everything.”
In July, she celebrated one full year without physical illness. But she’s not without painful reminders of her grueling journey. “The post-traumatic stress—I don’t know if that ever leaves you truly,” she said.
Jenson doesn’t regret sacrificing 15 years of her life to the struggle for justice. “I would take it up again,” she said. “It was worth the fight.”
She’s proudest of the fact that, by seeing the lawsuit through—the first of its kind in the country—she gave other women the opportunity to speak up. Once news of the lawsuit hit the headlines, she said, other mining companies started to implement harassment policies. “That started almost immediately for the smarter companies,” she recalled. “Getting that policy in place was very important. Once you have a policy in place then you have something; you know you have some ground to stand on and you’re a little bit stronger.”
That’s not to say that she’s satisfied.
“There’s some changes I’d like to see made,” she admitted. “If we could get changes that protect women in the legal system, overall that would help everyone. The protections that get set up, they get overruled. Women just get beat up for trying to do the right thing and for sticking up for themselves or someone else.”
She mentioned the Kobe Bryant case, where the pro basketball star was accused of sexual assault, as an example. “The defense in any situation is allowed such latitude. In some cases the hardball is strictly to get the women to back down. It would be nice to level the playing field. Also for attorneys … they need to level the playing field there, too. Companies can bring in as many attorneys as they want and drag it out for years and years. It costs the taxpayers and it costs the system’s integrity.”
Though Jenson says she still gets calls from women all over the country who want her advice, she refuses to believe she did anything extraordinary. “Had this case not succeeded, I believe another case would’ve,” she said. “It was just a matter of time.”