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Meet Nancy Grim, Fighting for Workers Rights in Ohio

“I wanted to represent individuals’ rights against large forces,” says Nancy Grim who has been fighting for employee rights in northeast Ohio. She has represented individual employees in discrimination and other employment disputes since 1984 and in her own practice at the Law Office of Nancy Grim since 1987. She has litigated in state and federal trial and appellate courts throughout northeast Ohio, and she is certified by the Ohio Supreme Court in Labor and Employment Law. She also is a trained mediator and has served on the mediation panel of the EEOC, Cleveland District. She also serves as appointed counsel in child welfare cases in Portage County.

Nancy grew up in Toledo, OH. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Akron School of Law in 1983. At that time, she was a young mother, attending law school at night. “About a third of the law classes included female students. It was a generation of feminists,” Nancy recounts smiling. “A couple of women in law school told me that I was their role model. We all realized that we were standing on the shoulders of the women who came before us.” In the courthouses, there was a feeling that there were new folks in the courtrooms, and men would make jokes about women’s voices. “Most people were used to hearing a man’s voice,” says Nancy. “Forty years ago, people did not hear women’s voices as tough. We now hear women on the radio and TV sounding strong,” she says.

Nancy’s career began at the labor and employment law firm of Green, Haines, Sgambati, Murphy & Macala of Youngstown, OH. Even though she also had an interest in other areas of civil rights, she did not pursue police misconduct litigation, because it required an understanding of criminal law - something that did not interest her. As a busy lawyer, mother and wife, she used to jokingly tell her husband, Richard Feinberg, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University “It would be nice if I had a wife.”  She would see the wives of her male colleagues, managing the home and dropping off and picking up their children. It seemed like that was the responsibility of the wives at that time. “My husband was actually a really good wife, sharing care for our children and the house,” she says chuckling.

How has Employment Law Changed?

Since those early days of Nancy’s career, she has seen growth in employment law with such laws as the Age Discrimination Act, the American with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Prior to these statutes, the focus was on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a federal law that protects employees against discrimination based on certain specified characteristics: race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. Under Title VII, an employer may not discriminate with regard to any term, condition, or privilege of employment. Areas that may give rise to violations include recruiting, hiring, promoting, transferring, training, disciplining, discharging, assigning work, measuring performance, or providing benefits. Title VII applies to employers in both the private and public sectors that have 15 or more employees. It also applies to the federal government, employment agencies, and labor organizations. Title VII is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“In the past 30 years, we saw a rise and decline of the law of ‘wrongful discharge in violation of public policy’ in Ohio. This right is from common law (court decisions) and not from statutes,” says Nancy. “This legal theory was cut back by the same courts that developed it, but there is still some power in the principle.” Over the past 20 years, she has seen both erosion and growth in interpretation of statutory rights. In June 2021, the Supreme Court made a major decision which broadly interprets the meaning of discrimination “because of” sex. 

Sexual harassment has grown in the public consciousness with the “Me Too” movement, but hasn’t grown in the legal interpretation in the courts. “Sexual harassment cases are really difficult for normal people - those who are not celebrities or influence  - to prosecute. For a court case, sexual or racial harassment must be ”severe or pervasive,” in order to be conducted for which one can get compensation. That is a murky standard,” says nancy.Court decisions require that most victims of harassment report the problem to management. “It is reasonable to be fearful to report harassment because of the possibility of retaliation by a supervisor or co-worker. That’s a real challenge for women who have been victimized by harassment. For many women, they were raised to be nice, to not be confrontational and to not talk about sex. I’m not such a nice person, and that’s why I’m a lawyer,” she laughs. “It can be hard to be that person to speak up and say, ‘Stop it.’”

Recently, in the March 15/March 22 double issue of Time Magazine, three of Nancy’s clients were interviewed related to a Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) case. According to the article that focuses on women and the pandemic, the case “[ ] alleges that when the company cut staff at the end of June, the only employees laid off were the ones who had taken family leave, even though expanded FMLA was put in place to provide not only relief but also an assurance that if a worker takes leave, she would return to her same job or an equivalent one at the end of it.” 

“Women bear the burden of caring for children and family, and if there is an illness in the family, women face economic instability. The purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act is to equalize and encourage both genders to have the opportunity to care for family and to remain economically stable,” says Nancy. The trial date for this case will be in June 2021.

Advice to other Women Lawyers

“Be tough and resilient. Just do it,” replies Nancy about the advice she would give to other women lawyers. In the 1970’s, women felt that they needed to wear a blue suit, for example, like men to be seen as the same as them. “Women are not trying as hard to be like men. Some change has been incremental,” says Nancy. “Women are learning together and showing different ways of being strong. Sometimes a quiet voice can be more effective. Sometimes, it is better to boom than to yell.”

Nancy also encourages women lawyers to find mentors and to join groups. “It is great to have people that you can ask questions and get support.” Nancy is a member of many local civic organizations. She currently serves on the boards of Portage County Community Action Council and Summit County Association for Justice. Previously she served on the boards of Community Legal Aid Service, and the Kent Natural Foods Cooperative. She is an active member of the Portage County Bar Association, and is also a member of the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association, Ohio State Bar Association, National Employment Lawyers Association, and the National Lawyers Guild. In the past, she has served on boards, including officer positions, for Amigos de las Américas (Ohio Chapter); Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet; Ohio NOW Education and Legal Fund; Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA); Kent Committee on Human Justice and Community Harmony; Brady Lake Empowerment and Development Corporation; Lake Brady Association; and WomanShelter, Inc.

Nancy has two adult children who followed on her husband’s footsteps, both having PhDs in cultural anthropology. Her son is in Europe, working as a philosopher, and her daughter is in Washington State, teaching dance remotely. She also has two grandchildren. She enjoys bicycling, whitewater kayaking, wilderness camping, and skiing. She has traveled multiple times to the Solomon Islands where her husband has conducted extensive fieldwork in Polynesian communities. 

Workplace Fairness thanks Nancy for her ongoing support of our organization and for all that she does to represent workers’ as they fight for fairness and justice.

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