Closing the gaps: Plaintiffs in pivotal sexual harassment cases

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When he wrote Debtors in Court almost 30 years ago, Herbert Jacob laid the foundation for the legal mobilization research that has flourished in recent years. In arguing that litigants were political actors, Jacob showed that their social identities and communications networks influenced their decisions to use the power of the law to vindicate their interests. This paper builds on Jacob's original insights to analyze the origins of the claim for sexual harassment as a Title VII violation. By focusing on the women who filed those claims, the paper examines the interaction of class, gender, and race that created social distance between the women and their harassers and employers. This distance made informal resolution of their disputes impossible, requiring the intervention of third parties. In addition, their communications networks led them to attorneys able to generate and expand the new claim for sexual harassment. This analysis of a particular moment in legal history reveals the potential political significance of private litigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-793
Number of pages33
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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