Pittsburgh Feminist Leaves Strong Legacy

Gerald Gardner, who was influential in two landmark discrimination cases, died this past weekend in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He was 83.

Dr. Gardner taught at various colleges and universities and was highly influential in his field of engineering and theoretical physics, but once told an interviewer that his proudest accomplishment was eliminating sex-segregated classified ads in newspapers. Until the 1970s, it was common for newspapers to run separate help-wanted ads for male and female jobseekers. Dr. Gardner believed that this was an instance of sex discrimination and made his case to the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission, which adopted his reasoning. According to Eleanor Smeal, originally from western Pennsylvania and current president of the Feminist Majority:

“What Gerry did was calculate the statistical chance that a woman could get a job in one of the male categories,” said Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority and a former president of NOW. “He calculated pay differentials. The disparities just flabbergasted him. He contributed the hard intellectual theory based on the math, and he made it understandable, powerfully so.”

The Human Relations Commission charged the Pittsburgh Press with sex discrimination, which the newspaper fought, claiming that they had the right to sex-segregate the want ads under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed, ending the practice.

Another discrimination lawsuit that Dr. Gardner was a major part of changed the hiring practices of the Pittsburgh Police Department. In 1975, the National Organization for Women brought a federal lawsuit charging that the PPD discriminated against hiring women and minorities. As a result, the PPD was required to hire police officers in groups of four: one white man, one white woman, one black man, and one black woman. Although this requirement did not take into account other ways of increasing the diversity of the PPD, until it was lifted in 1990, Pittsburgh led the nation in women and minority police officers.

By all accounts, Dr. Gardner was a true social activist committed to equality for all human beings. We thank him for his work and hope that his example will inspire future generations.

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