Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book, Nine to Five: How Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace (Cambridge University Press 2016), is a lively and accessible introduction to the laws, policies, and practices that shape women’s lives at work. She also writes extensively on family law, especially on state regulation of marriage and parentage. She is also an author of Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America (Princeton University Press 2011), a comprehensive social history of family law. She is the co-author of Gender & Law: Theory Doctrine & Commentary (6th ed. 2013); the co-editor of Gender Equality: Dimensions of Women’s Equal Citizenship (Cambridge University Press 2009); and the co-editor of Family Law in New York (Carolina Academic Press 2015).

Columns by Joanna L. Grossman

A Difference of Opinion: Are Universal Life Church Weddings Valid in New York?

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the validity, in New York, of marriages performed by the Universal Life Church, which ordains its ministers via the click of an online button, and subsequent online approval. New York courts are split on the matter, and as Grossman notes, a recent annulment filing has brought the issue up once again. Her column brings up interesting questions such as, “Who is a minister?” and “What is a Church?”

Victor/Victoria: Michigan Court Says Marriage Still Valid Despite Husband’s Sexual Reassignment Surgery

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on how the legal status of the spouses in a marriage may change if one of them has sex-reassignment surgery—either before or after the marriage, or whether their legal sex must always be the one they had at birth. Grossman covers cases on this topic in Kansas, Texas, Florida and New Jersey, and their outcomes.

Parenthood by Contract: The Kansas Supreme Court Enforces a Lesbian Co-Parenting Agreement

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the recurring legal issue of whether a lesbian co-parent—one who functions as a second parent for her partner’s biological child—can acquire parental or quasi-parental rights that allow her to still enjoy a parent-child relationship after the adults’ relationship ends. Grossman discusses state Supreme Court cases from Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio that take on this very question. She also discusses the question whether a child can have three legal parents (one of whom is a sperm donor and the other two, lesbian co-parents) and notes that no court, so far, has allowed that.

What’s the Matter with North Dakota and Arkansas? Two State Legislatures Pass Highly Restrictive and Unconstitutional Abortion Laws

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on two states’ decisions to pass abortion laws despite the fact that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, it is very clear that these new laws are unconstitutional. Grossman explains the relevant tenets of constitutional law regarding abortion, and details exactly why both North Dakota’s and Arkansas’s laws flout the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents. Grossman also covers other abortion laws that have been passed by state legislatures despite their very clear unconstitutionality, and notes that the new laws do not gibe with public opinion regarding abortion rights.

A Lawyer for All: The 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright

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Justia columnist Joanna Grossman and Justia guest columnist Leon Friedman, both Hofstra law professors, comment on the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainright, which established the right to an attorney for those who are facing felony charges, and who would not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer. The column is timely, as the Gideon precedent is now fifty years old. In their column, Grossman and Friedman describe the state of the law before the ruling in Gideon, note the arguments that persuaded the Court to declare a right of appointed counsel for those who could not afford counsel, and explain the meaning of the ruling.

A Step in the Right Direction: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 at 20

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on its twentieth anniversary. Grossman notes that after an eight-year fight over its provisions, the FMLA was left somewhat anemic when it was finally enacted into law. Grossman also explains specifically why the FMLA is disappointing to many workers: For instance, many U.S. workers are not eligible for FMLA leave; many of the eligible cannot afford to take leave; and the FMLA has done little to alter the disproportionate burden of caretaking that falls on women in most families. In addition, Grossman points out, the FMLA did not alter the U.S.’s disappointingly low ranking among industrialized countries when it comes to medical and caretaking leave benefits for workers. Grossman urges some much-needed fixes to the FMLA, advocating that the law should be changed to solve some serious problems with, and close some worrisome gaps in, leave benefits, which she details.

In Utero: The New Jersey Supreme Court Says Prenatal Drug Exposure Is Not Sufficient Evidence of Child Abuse

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a New Jersey case in which the state’s high court held unanimously—and perhaps surprisingly, to some—that the state may not find a newborn to be abused or neglected based solely on evidence of prenatal drug exposure, without evidence of actual harm to the child. Grossman covers the problem of drug use among pregnant women; states’ various approaches to that problem; and the question of when pre-natal drug use should be deemed child abuse under the law.

“Mama’s in the Graveyard, Papa’s in the Pen”: Why the Children of a Slaying Spouse Cannot Inherit

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman explain the rule that one who slays his or her spouse cannot then inherit from that spouse. To illustrate the doctrine, Grossman and Friedman focus on a case involving a murder in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), and raise the interesting question of who determines, in this context, if a suspect was actually the slayer. They also explain why not only the slayer, but also the slayer’s children, are barred from inheriting from the murder victim. In addition to the BVI case, Grossman and Friedman cover a long-ago New York case that they deem the grandfather of all slayer cases, as well as a few other, more recent slayer cases.

Battle of the Sexes: The Department of Defense Lifts the Restriction on Women in Combat

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on DoD’s recent decision to remove the ban on women in combat. After providing a brief history of women in the military, Grossman characterizes the ban as having been a stubborn form of sex discrimination, and notes that the ban had been honored in the breach, as military women were increasingly participating in combat roles that put them in harm's way, as a number of their deaths have sadly proven. Thus, Grossman calls on the military to recognize the reality that women already occupied what are in effect combat roles, even before the DoD restrictions were lifted, and to ensure military women’s equality by addressing the high level of sexual abuse in the military.

Labor of Love: Sex, Jobs, and Workers' Compensation

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professsor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on a case that raised the issue whether workers' compensation covered an injury that was incurred during sex on a business trip, with the injury at issue involving a broken and dangerous light fixture. Grossman and Friedman explain why, though the Australian woman who suffered the light-fixture injury prevailed on her workers' compensation claim, and most American claimants injured during sex on a business trip likely would, too, other would-be claimants with sex-on-a-business-trip injuries have been left without any remedy from workers’ compensation.

When Good Courts Go Bad: The Iowa Supreme Court Issues an Absurd Decision on Sexual Jealousy and Employment

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman takes strong issue with a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision holding that a male dentist did not violate a law banning sex discrimination in employment when he fired his very competent dental assistant simply because he was attracted to her. Grossman argues that the Iowa courts should, in this case, have recognized that the dentist perpetrated what is called “sex-plus discrimination,” which joins sex discrimination with another factor, such as an attraction to a particular person of that sex. Thus, Grossman explains, it is not a factor in the dentist's favor, legally, that he had hired other female assistants, and did not harass them. When women are treated worse than men at work because of their gender, Grossman concludes, discrimination law must apply, regardless of how many women are harassed or how selective or attraction-based the harasser may be.

Going to the Show: The Supreme Court Will Consider Validity of Same-Sex Marriage Bans

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the two upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases relating to same-sex marriage. The first case presents the question whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—one provision of which precludes the federal government from giving effect, for any federal law purpose, to a validly celebrated same-sex marriage—is unconstitutional. The second case raises the issue of the constitutionality—or lack thereof—of a voter referendum in California that eliminated a right of same-sex marriage that the state’s highest court had previously ruled to be constitutionally necessary. Grossman provides detailed background on same-sex marriage developments in the U.S., and then goes on to analyze the issues raised by DOMA and the California referendum, respectively, and to consider the various possible outcomes that the Court might reach in each Supreme Court case. While Grossman notes that the Supreme Court has often tended to rule in ways that bring along straggler states on social justice issues, rather than being ahead of the states as a group, she also notes that this case could be an exception to that pattern.

Who’s the Boss? The Supreme Court Hears Argument on the Meaning of the Term “Supervisor” in Workplace Harassment Law

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal definition of “supervisor” in the context of the law addressing harassment in the workplace. The topic is especially timely because the Supreme Court just recently held oral argument in Vance v. Ball State University, which focuses on this very issue. Grossman begins by covering workplace harassment basics, and then goes on to consider the scope of employers’ affirmative defense to a workplace harassment claim—which has proven to be a highly contested issue. She then focuses on Vance itself, discussing both the facts of that case, and the split among the federal circuits about who qualifies as a “supervisor.” Grossman ultimately comes down in favor of the EEOC’s definition of “supervisor,” arguing that it is clearly correct. She also comments on some of the Justices’ apparent positions on the matter, as likely betrayed by their respective comments at oral argument.

An Historic First: Voters Support Same-Sex Marriage at the Polls

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman evaluates the meaning of the votes cast across the nation on the various pro-same-sex marriage referendums. Such referendums passed in Maryland, Maine, and Washington State. Grossman describes the details of the various referendums and other ballot measures relating to same-sex marriage, and notes the split, in each state she discusses, regarding votes for Obama and for Romney, respectively. Grossman explains why such referendums are noteworthy: (1) the common but not necessarily correct idea that this is an issue for the people (not courts) to decide; (2) the fact that the referendums may augur the future of same-sex marriage in America; and (3) the referendums show that young voters tend to be pro-same-sex marriage, and as more and young people reach voting age, there very likely will be even more pro-same-sex marriage voters. Grossman concludes, citing relevant statistics and developments, that among young people, and Americans generally, we are seeing a sea change toward support of gay marriage.

Hands Off the Merchandise!: Appellate Court Orders Grocery Store to Ban Sexual Harasser from Premises

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a flagrant case of sexual harassment in a grocery store, which eventually led to litigation that came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case, as Grossman explains, arose from the store owner’s fiance’s habit of touching sexually, and otherwise sexually harassing, the store’s employees, who were mostly teenage girls. The girls complained, but nothing was done. Ultimately, the store was found liable for sexual harassment. Grossman explains the steps necessary to win such a case, and discusses the question of the scope of the remedy that was imposed upon the store in this case. She also notes that in such cases, both legal remedies (money damages) and equitable remedies (court orders to do or refrain from doing something) are appropriate.

Binders for Women, Blinders for Romney

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the second presidential debate, and especially on Mitt Romney’s now-famous comment about “binders full of women,” which has now become an Internet meme. Grossman argues that the comment reveals Romney’s dated and uninformed view of women in the workplace. She also notes that Romney, while avoiding the question about pay inequity that led to the “binders” comment, revealed that he believes that the only workers who need flexible schedules are women, apparently due to the assumptions that all women have children, and that only women perform child care.

When Your Daddy Is Not Really Your Daddy: A Man Successfully Sues His Ex-Wife for Paternity Fraud Damages

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the law relating to paternity fraud—that is, to instances when women falsely claim that one man has fathered their child, when in fact, the child's father was another man. Grossman focuses on a Tennessee case that fits that very scenario. There, the man who was falsely led to believe that a child was his, and who consequently paid child support for that child, sued his ex-wife for damages, and won on his claim for intentional misrepresentation of paternity. As Grossman notes, a few other states take approaches similar to Tennessee's. Grossman also covers the approach that the Uniform Parenthood Act (UPA) takes to this issue.

I See London, I See France: Upskirting and the Law

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on the law regarding the despicable practice of “upskirting.” As Grossman and Friedman explain, upskirting is the secret taking of photos or videos with a camera that is angled so as to look up a woman’s skirt. They begin by discussing expectations of privacy, and go on to consider the particular invasion of privacy that is perpetrated through upskirting. They then note that while one might assume that upskirting (and its counterpart, downblousing) in a public place would be illegal and penalized in every jurisdiction, in fact that is not the case. Grossman and Friedman explain the puzzling legal status of upskirting in many jurisdictions, and comment on why the current law in this area often defies our intuitions about privacy—though some recent state laws are now authorizing punishments for upskirters.

Single-Sex Public Schools and Classes: A Dangerous Lesson in Stereotypes?

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on some troubling aspects of the federal regulations regarding single-sex public schools and public-school classes, and how those regulations have often been distorted in practice. These developments, Grossman notes, have led to a current nationwide ACLU investigation, from which preliminary findings have been made; and to a lawsuit, with more suits possibly to come. Grossman first explains the law and regulations that govern single-sex public schools and public-school classes, some of which derive from George W. Bush Administration regulatory changes that took effect in 2006. Detailing the content of the regulations, Grossman then argues that they not only run afoul of the law, but are also likely damaging the very children whom they are supposed to be helping. She also questions the decision to have schools self-enforce the very rules that are supposed to bind them. In addition, Grossman cites other baleful aspects of the 2006 changes, including their tendency to invite gender stereotyping, along with gender segregation, and the fact that they were based on what is clearly now-discredited science. Grossman argues that the Obama Administration’s Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should now take the opportunity to correct and update the regulations at issue.

Costly Mistakes: Employers Ignore Workplace Harassment at their Peril, As the Recent Cases of New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Chrysler Show

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses two recent cases of workplace harassment, one at a New York Assemblyman’s office, and another at a Chrysler factory. She focuses, especially, on why, in both cases, the harassment was allowed to continue for significant periods of time, despite the fact that the relevant decisionmakers knew about it. Grossman also raises the related question of why the prospect of even whopping punitive damages awards did not seem to make a difference in these two cases, with the harassers still being allowed to continue their bad behavior, even in the face of potentially massive legal sanctions. She also discusses the lessons that other employers should learn, from these cases, so that they, too, do not go astray, and then have to pay handsomely in court.