Joanna L. Grossman

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 chronicles contemporary developments in parentage law in her blog, Are You My Mother?. 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

Revenge: The Supreme Court Narrows Protection Against Workplace Retaliation in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake together comment on the Supreme Court's recent decisions in two cases that involved employment discrimination. In one, the Court narrowed the definition of “supervisor” in harassment cases, which reduces the number of cases in which employers can be held vicariously liable for unlawful harassment. In the other case, the same 5-4 majority took a restrictive view of causation in workplace retaliation cases, which Grossman and Brake note will undermine protection for workers who complain about discrimination. As Justice Ginsburg observed in her strong dissents in both cases, and as Grossman and Brake also contend, the majority opinions are insensitive to the realities of working life, and are wrongly preoccupied with making it easy for employers to win discrimination cases at the summary judgment stage.

DOMA is Dead: The Supreme Court Rules in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, holding that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—passed in 1996 in haste to ward off same-sex marriage in the states—is unconstitutional. Grossman chronicles DOMA's history; discusses challenges to DOMA Section Three; and explains why Windsor was the perfect test case for DOMA. She also covers the standing issue, in addition to the merits questions discussed by the majority opinion and the dissent.

The Power to Harass: The Supreme Court Adopts A Definition of “Supervisor” that Reduces Employer Liability for Harassment

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman critiques the Supreme Court majority opinion in Vance v. Ball State University. There, Grossman explains, the Court majority held that a harasser does not qualify as a supervisor unless he or she has the power to “take tangible employment actions against the victim”—also known informally as having the power to hire and fire. This ruling matters in important ways, Grossman explains, because the employer’s liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for workplace harassment committed by supervisors is much stronger than it is for harassment inflicted by co-workers. Accordingly, the ruling leaves some workers with less protection from harassment than they would have had, if the Court's minority had had its way. Grossman also covers Justice Ginsburg's dissent, which she finds very persuasive.

Seneca Falls Redux: New York’s Governor Cuomo Pushes A New Law to Protect Women’s Rights

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman explains the specific provisions of, and the keen need for, the bill that Governor Cuomo of New York has recently proposed, which is entitled the Women's Equality Act (WEA). Pointing to two hypothetical babies, a boy and a girl, Cuomo notes that the girl's life will be marked with risks and forms of discrimination that the boy will never have to suffer. The bill, Cuomo contends, will help level the playing field for girls and women, via changes in the law in ten different areas, each of which Grossman comments upon.

Birthright: The Iowa Supreme Court Allows a Lesbian Co-Parent to Be Listed on an Infant’s Birth Certificate

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling allowing the lesbian co-partner of the biological mother of a child to be listed on that child’s birth certificate. Grossman covers the facts regarding the particular co-partners who prevailed in this landmark decision, and the reasoning that convinced the Iowa Supreme Court—which earlier had legalized same-sex marriage—to side with them and to grant them both the rights to be recognized as the legal mothers of the child whom they are raising together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.