“I’m not a weakling.”
A graduate of Central High School, Alta worked at Uniroyal in Mishawaka for 30 years, the bulk of her working life. A native of South Bend, Alta lived most of her life in Michiana. In 1970, she and seven other women filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Uniroyal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Alta started at Uniroyal when she was 26 years old and when “it was hard for women to get a job. If you had children, it was worse. I had two small children at the time; I had to have live-in babysitters.” She entered Uniroyal at a time when women were considered second to men, “A lot of women at Uniroyal were in the same predicament. You just had to work. You couldn’t be choosy. I was glad to have a job and get a paycheck. The male was superior at the time. It was accepted.” The situation was made worse by two separate methods of determining employment and promotion status in which men were privileged over women, causing a disproportionate number of women to be laid off or fired when business was slow. Despite this disparity, Alta noted that “we didn’t have the backing of the union like you should have. Women really didn’t have any leadership roles because the union was predominantly male.”
In tackling this disparity through legal channels, Alta said, “we had to go through so many lawsuits to achieve our goal.” Starting in 1970, Alta and the other plaintiffs filed charges with the EEOC, which issued a right-to-sue letter. In 1972, a federal class action suit was filed against Uniroyal and Local 65 of the United Rubber Workers International. The courts established liability on the part of Uniroyal in 1974; however, soon after the judge in the case died causing a delay in response until 1976. In 1979 the suit was finally settled for 5.2 million dollars.
Reflecting on the lawsuit, Alta clarified, “I did not do it for the money. If it would have been for the money I would have never started. You could never be compensated for what you put into it.”
- 2005 Torchbearer Award (Labor Advocate), Indiana Women’s Commission
- Worked at Uniroyal in Mishawaka for 30 years
- Lead plaintiff in $5.2 million lawsuit for employment discrimination against women
Information compiled from oral history collected by Kathy Harsh Jonas and from various South Bend Tribune articles.
Alta was honored at Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders 2016.