Judge Eunice Ross, a Courageous Voice for Women, a Role Model for All Lawyers and Judges
My most memorable interaction with the distinguished and learned Judge Ross occurred not when I appeared before her but when I (working with my co-counsel, Louise Malakoff and Michael Malakoff) was preparing for a major gender discrimination case in federal district court, in late 1978. I asked her to testify on behalf of two women court reporters in the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas, who were being paid about $8,000 a year less than two male court reporters in the Orphans’ Court Division. The case was entitled Herd v. Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny county, et al. There were a number of individual defendants also. It was a clear case of pay disparity. Today it would be a simple case. It was not then.
The major defense was that the work of the court reporters n Orphans’ Court as more difficult, because the male reporters were recording testimony in cases that involved a large amount of money, whereas the female reporters were recording testimony not involving large amounts of money but allegedly involving more “minor” matters such as child custody, support, alimony, etc. Our argument in response was that recording the testimony in Orphans’ Court was rather simple and pro forma, such as recording “yes” answers to questions such as “Are you the executor of the estate of so-and-so, deceased?” “Did you cause this First and Final Account to be prepared?” “Is everything in the First and Final Account true and accurate?” etc. The testimony in Family Division, on the other hand, typically involved a marital couple hollering at each other, speaking at the same time, with tensions running high, and the court trying to control the proceeding. The hearings in Family Court often went long into the evening, with few breaks. Testimony from our clients and other court reporters was that it was much harder and took more skill to record testimony accurately in Family Court, and in any event, the duties of the court reporters in Family Court required equal skill, effort and responsibility. There was simply no factual basis for disparity in pay.
The case had been pending at the EEOC and the district court for a good while, and after a protracted period of discovery, the case was finally set for trial. I was a fairly young attorney then, having been in practice only since 1970. I had never sued the Court of Common Pleas for any matter, much less regarding a matter so controversial and highly-visible. Indeed, some of my peers thought we were crazy for suing the Court, when we would have to appear in front of many of these same judges in the future. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania came in for the trial, and its attorney was opposing us, assisting the large law firm which was representing the Court of Common Pleas, the President Judge and the Court Administrator. The atmosphere was very intimidating.
Judge Ross encouraged me not to lose heart, to keep on fighting the case, even if I might get some push-back from other judges. The Court of Common Pleas was split over which side to take: we had seven judges willing to testify for our side, the other side had three. Judge Ross was our first judicial witness. She was viewed by some of her judicial peers as having been disloyal for testifying. She was very forthright in her testimony, and was most impressive, naturally. Although we lost a portion of the case, which was tried non-jury, in another portion of the case we obtained a confidential settlement for our clients. This case helped to change the pay disparity that had existed for so long. With Judge Ross’s encouragement and courageous testimony, the gender disparity issues might well not have been resolved so quickly.
I have always admired Judge Ross. Her entire career is a model for any attorney or judge to follow: she had brains and used them, she exuded class, grace and civility. She manifested a social conscience. I have been privileged to know her. I have considered her a dear friend all these many years. Happy Birthday, Judge Ross, and many more.
-By James H. Logan, Esq