Deborah Dinner


The landmark 1974 Supreme Court case of Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, which held pregnancy dismissal policies unconstitutional, deserves a far more prominent place in our constitutional history and canon than the case now holds. This article uses novel historical research to recover the activism that gave rise to LaFleur and the multiple, significant meanings of the decision for workers, school boards, feminist lawyers, and the legal academy. In the early 1970s, women's rights organizing within unions, grassroots feminist activism, and sex discrimination law all evolved in symbiotic relationship. Labor and legal feminists argued for sex equality and reproductive liberty as interdependent, necessary conditions for women to realize the status of rights-holding persons under the Fourteenth Amendment. Although decided upon the basis of an incoherent and quickly discredited theory of procedural due process, the LaFleur decision also grappled with the relationship between women's rights to equal employment and their right to bear children. Today, rigid doctrinal categories sever the constitutional right to sex equality from the right to reproductive liberty. Recovering the LaFleur doctrine entails recovering an activist vision of equal employment and reproductive freedom as inextricably related as well as a moment at which the Court contemplated the significance of that relationship to women's citizenship.

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