Dirty Linen: How Women Sued the Reader’s Digest and Changed History, by Elaine Auerbach

Dirty Linen is an everywoman manifesto and a gentle tutorial on fundamental civil rights activism by the working mom next door. Set in Westchester County, New York in the 1970’s, Reader’s Digest was, at the time, a staple in every household and a formidable publishing powerhouse, portraying itself as having a backbone of righteous, wholesome tradition. As the story unfolds, the author tells of the all-too-common professional experience of assuming all paths were open for her to ascend up the corporate ladder from her entry-level position at Reader’s Digest. However, despite college pedigree, hard work, and talent, she is dismayed and frustrated when her career (and the careers of many of the women around her) did not progress forward.

Entrenched in a conservative and pristine corporate campus of white walls adorned with world-class artwork, a group of women took a courageous step outside the expectation of politeness, determined that their experiences were, in fact, discrimination, and made the brave decision to fight for change by filing a lawsuit. Aided in their litigation efforts by students and lawyers, including Harriet Rabb from the Columbia Law School clinic, as well as through a grassroots, street-level advocacy campaign, these women made civil rights history by achieving a financial recovery and implementing goals with timetables and training.

The Reader’s Digest litigation spawned similar litigation at Newsweek and the New York Times. For the litigation nerds among us, this story will thrill in its steady and familiar telling of the litigation arc and the birth of using regression analyses in civil rights litigation. It also serves as an important reminder that litigation can be very hard for clients and can have very real negative effects on their lives even in the most civil settings, a reality that lawyers can sometimes lose sight of when in the throes of passionately advocating on their behalf. In sum, this book is very readable and a truly uplifting story of civil rights activism. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating the inch-by-inch fight for equality that is the unfortunate reality of civil rights work, and it is recommended reading for everyone standing on the shoulders of those who came before us in fighting for equality today.

Dirty Linen, by Elaine Auerbach, is available for purchase at wildcatpress.com

Grant & Eisenhofer is not affiliated with the author or publisher of this book and receives no financial benefit from any purchases made through the link above.

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