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Faith Seidenberg, New York Lawyer, Inspiration for Civil Rights Lawyers, Dies

Faith Seidenberg, an attorney and activist, who was known for defending civil rights and civil liberties, died at age 91. She is best remembered for her lawsuit against McSorley’s Old Ale House. The New York Eats Village tavern had refused to serve women for 115 years. Seidenberg sued them in a landmark discrimination case and won in 1970.

According to The New York Times (1.20.15), Seidenberg and another woman entered the East 7th Street bar. The other patrons and the waiters jeered. But she did not back down. She waited for the noise to die down and requested service. She was escorted to the door and left. She and the friend who accompanied her into the tavern, Karen Decrow, then sued the bar for discrimination.

On August 10, 1970, a federal judge issued a landmark ruling in their favor, and Mayor John V. Lindsay signed legislation banning discrimination in public places on the basis of sex. That same afternoon, the manager of McSorley’s welcomed Barbara Shaum as its first female patron. Seidenberg did not return to the bar.

Seidenberg practiced law for close to 60 years and, in that time; she had broken legal ground on a number of issues. In 1992, Seidenberg successfully represented ice hockey players at Colgate University in the first case that converted a women’s athletic club to a full-fledged varsity team under Title IX of federal education law, which bars schools that receive federal aid from discriminating on the basis of sex. She also won a case for a lawyer whose skirt, hemmed five inches above the knee, was considered excessively short.

Faith Seidenberg is an inspiration for many lawyers who defend clients’ civil rights and civil liberties.

The fight for people’s rights continues. This week in the news there was a story about McDonald’s workers suing over racial and sexual discrimination and harassment. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the western district of Virginia, alleged three franchised restaurants fired more than a dozen black workers who “didn’t fit the profile” desired at the restaurants. According to The Chicago Tribune (1.22.15), the lawsuit also alleged that, a manager engaged in “inappropriate comments” and touching.

Many people agree that discrimination continues to be a problem for America. Discrimination due to factors such as race, ethnicity, nationality, class, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and more continue to make headlines across the nation. It is essential that lawyers continue to fight against discrimination and promote equality, whether discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.


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