Gerald Gardner, 83, Dies; Statistical Research Led to Ruling on Bias in Want Ads

Dr. Gardner
Dr. Gardner "produced a lot of change for the equality of women," his wife said. "He was shy, gentle and quiet but very active in women's rights." (Family Photo)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

Gerald H.F. Gardner, 83, a geophysicist and mathematician whose statistical research and expert testimony led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that eliminated sex bias in newspaper want ads, died July 25 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. He had leukemia.

Dr. Gardner, a founding member of the Pittsburgh affiliate of the National Organization for Women in the late 1960s, joined the chapter's ongoing battle against discrimination in help-wanted ads. At the time, many newspapers had separate, explicit categories for jobs openings for men or women. He calculated the amount of money a woman would lose over a lifetime because she was barred from applying for the jobs advertised as open only to men.

His research into the effects of those ads became the basis for the NOW's complaint against the Pittsburgh Press, the area's dominant newspaper at the time. The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations upheld the complaint, and the Pittsburgh Press -- backed by many other newspapers -- took the ruling to court, arguing it violated their First Amendment rights of the freedom of the press.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1973 that the newspaper's practice was illegal. The decision changed employment advertisements throughout the nation.

"He was the trailblazer for women in employment and education in the seventies and eighties," said Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW and current president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "He was indispensable. He could present mathematically the impact of discrimination and what it did for women in opportunity, but also financially with salaries. He quantified it. "

The majority of Dr. Gardner's involvement with the feminist movement was behind the scenes through his research and statistics, but he had a firsthand glimpse of discrimination in 1972. That year, he and his wife, Jo Ann Evansgardner, were among a group briefly arrested in New York after attempting to mount a papier-mâché bust of women's rights leader Susan B. Anthony onto the statue of Father Francis P. Duffy in Times Square. They hoped their actions would highlight the feminist movement.

Evansgardner said she and her husband worked as a perfect team on feminist issues. He played the studious academic ready to back the facts while she, the obstreperous advocate, would shout through the megaphone.

"He produced a lot of change for the equality of women," said Evansgardner. "He was shy, gentle and quiet but very active in women's rights."

Dr. Gardner organized a picket line at the 1973 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., because the league had a boys-only policy. His efforts there, and a series of lawsuits filed by NOW and women's rights advocates, pushed the organization to integrate girls for the first time the next season.

In 1975, Dr. Gardner provided more of his methodical research toward a federal lawsuit filed by NOW and the Pittsburgh NAACP, alleging that the Pittsburgh police department's hiring practices discriminated against women and minorities.

The lawsuit led to a citywide consent decree that impelled police to hire in groups of four: one white man, one white woman, one black man and one black woman. The decree remained in effect for 15 years but was later dropped after a lawsuit alleged reverse discrimination. The decree had helped Pittsburgh lead the nation in the number of female and black police officers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gerald Henry Frasier Gardner was born in Tullamore, Ireland, on March 2, 1926. He graduated from Dublin's Trinity College in 1948 and received a master's degree in applied mathematics from what is now Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University in 1949. He earned a doctorate in mathematical physics from Princeton University in 1953.

In 1950, he married Evansgardner, his only immediate survivor, whose last name she invented as a hyphen-less combination of their names.

Dr. Gardner worked as a seismologist for a research subsidiary of Gulf Oil for 24 years. In 1980, he moved to Texas to teach at the University of Houston's engineering department and later joined Rice University as a geophysics professor.

In his spare time, Dr. Gardner enjoyed gardening and was partial to tomatoes.

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