Women’s History Month Commemorated
Today the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa recognized Women’s History Month 2015 by hosting a program commemorating the 40th anniversary of the landmark Iowa Civil Rights Commission decision, Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Parr. United States Attorney Kevin Techau welcomed speakers and guests noting that this month, “We celebrate countless pioneering women and the legal victories they have won.”
Featured program speakers included Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin and Reverend Bill Cotton. They recounted how their professional careers crossed in the early-1970s when they fought against the injustice of gender discrimination facing two Cedar Rapids school teachers.
Over 50 attendees heard the speakers tell the story of how two pregnant school teachers were forced to leave their teaching positions in the Cedar Rapids School District beginning the fifth month of their pregnancy. One teacher, Joan Parr, was not tenured and the policy as it related to her called for a forced termination. Reverend Cotton, the first Director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, challenged this discriminatory practice. As the litigation commenced, Reverend Cotton connected with then Assistant Attorney General Roxanne Conlin, who successfully prosecuted the case all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. In 1975, the High Court ruled that this practice discriminated against women and violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act. This case is considered a landmark ruling in Iowa jurisprudence.
One year after this ruling the US Supreme Court rejected a claim that an employer’s policy excluding pregnancy from its disability benefits plan did not violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination. Two years later Congress passed the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act which overruled this decision. http://go.usa.gov/3CefA These facts highlight not only the bravery of two Iowa teachers pioneering women’s rights but the forward thinking of Iowa’s judiciary.
Both speakers closed their presentations by noting that Iowa courts have a long history of furthering the rights of citizens in many cases well before the United States Congress or the US Supreme Court conferred them. Speaker Conlin shared that, “This is something we as Iowans should have great pride in.”
US Attorney Techau echoed the Presidential Proclamation proclaiming March 2015 as Women’s History Month by stating, “We know that when women succeed, America succeeds.”
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