North Country Movie: Labor Laws Violated Analysis

Table of Content

            Violation of labor laws, such as workplace intimidation, women discrimination, and sexual harassment, is quite difficult to present in a movie. This is because these issues are so dependent on context and specific labor jurisprudence that their informal discussions may result in overacting and overwriting. However, one such noticeable exemption is the 2005 movie “North Country,” a story of a woman’s fight for her personal- and work-related rights. Aside from the clear and actual manifestations of sexual harassment, the film’s presentation of violation of other labor laws turned out to be the igniting force for the main character to advance not only her personal rights but that of the whole workforce where she belongs. While the movie has emphasized the concept of sexual harassment and the ways on how a woman battled against it, other unfair labor practices or violations are not left behind. “North Country,” therefore, emerged as an intense film which promoted, protected, and changed for the better the legal landscape pertaining to the rights of women, particularly the single parents. Ultimately, the film succeeded in presenting that in a man’s world such as the mining industry, there is much room for women to have a decent way of living and a fair chance against sexual harassment, unfair hiring policies, discrimination, and other labor-related violations.

North Country Movie: Labor Laws Violated

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            For the strong working-woman character of actress Charlize Theron in the movie “North Country,” all she needed was to earn a decent way of living, but instead, her personal and legal battle put her in history.

The 2005 Niki Caro film focuses on a single parent named Josey Aimes, who decided to leave her abusive partner and earn a living in a male-dominated local taconite mining company, to support her two children. The movie presents Aimes as a struggling single mother who initially had to endure work-related abuses but eventually stood up and fought not only for her rights but that of the other women in Eveleth Mines.

            Out of necessity, Aimes settles for a job in a man’s world where the mere presence of women apparently creates both arousal and competition among their male counterparts. However, the Eveleth Mines, a male-controlled industry, constantly subjects Aimes and her colleagues to a lot of labor-related violations such as sexual harassment and intimidation, and other significant work infractions or unfair labor practices such as the unjust hiring policy and discrimination. When Aimes could no longer tolerate the abuse, she complains to the management but to no avail. Worse, her female associates who experienced similar abuses deny Aimes her needed support for fear of being fired. This leaves Aimes no option but to fight for herself. Frustrated at Eveleth Mines’ working system, she eventually quits her job after she was physically attacked.

             Several labor laws were apparently violated by the Eveleth Mines in the movie, which became more evident with the coming of Aimes as an addition to the number of women workers. The “out-of-the-box” character and personality of Aimes has caused animosity among the male workers who perceives her to be assertive and offensive at the same time. Thus, to get even, the male population attacks not only Aimes but all the women, and subjects them to work-related abuses and various forms of sexual harassment such as nasty remarks, obscene writings on the walls, far-fetched humors, and unusual or uncalled for physical contact such as caressing. Because of Aimes’ youth and extraordinary beauty and spirit, the men abused her more than her women colleagues. One particular example of the sexual harassment that Aimes experienced was the verbal comment of her superficially kind boss who told Aimes to “close both her mouth and her legs” (“North Country,” 2005).

As the plot of the story unveils itself, the movie shows Aimes fighting against the sexual maltreatments and other work-related abuses by herself. However, an unfortunate twist of events takes place when Aimes’ intention to unify the women population of the mining company is opposed by the women themselves in fear of losing their established careers. Her futile pleading of her case to a labor union prompts her to file a case against Eveleth Mines. Her personal legal battle shifts to filing of a class action lawsuit that requires corroboration of at least two more witnesses. In the process, she realizes that in fighting for her violated labor rights, her personal or private life would also be subjected to grueling abuse or infringement. For instance, she had to disclose during the investigation how she was sexually assaulted. Thus, in defending her work rights, she had to sacrifice her basic right to privacy and endure exposing in detail how her son was born as a result of being sexually molested. While revealing her dreadful past, her former boyfriend volunteers to speak out as a witness for the sex crime. Ultimately, the legal drama and true events-inspired “North Country” concludes with Aimes getting the support and respect of the majority of Eveleth Mines’ workers.

A Chronicle of Sexual Harassment Case

            The marvelous screenplay was written by Michael Seitzman who drew inspiration from the book “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law” written by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler. According to the review made by the Publishers Weekly, Bingham and Gansler were deeply moved by the 1997 reversal of decision made by Judge Donald Lay over a resolution of a lower court regarding the case of Lois Jenson against her employer (Eveleth Mines). Jenson’s story prompted Bingham and Gansler to create a disturbing narrative of “sexual-harassment class-action lawsuit, Jenson v. Eveleth” (Publishers Weekly). The review further said that the two authors successfully chronicled in their book the legal battle and eventual triumph of Jenson against the Eveleth Mines. The same inspiration was then carried on by Seitzman in his screenplay of the film “North Country.”

            The Publishers Weekly added that Bingham and Gansler effectively presented in their book a clear and real account of the said Jenson Sexual Harassment Case based on the decision made by Judge Lay who specifically counted on the following premises:

the emotional harm, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit…. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable (Publishers Weekly).

            Bingham and Gansler generally focused their book on the almost three decade’s legal battle of Jenson and her colleagues at the Eveleth Mines. Specifically, the authors of the book, just like Director Caro and writer Seitzman of the movie, depicted the various unfair labor practices or violations of labor rights that the women characters, both in the book and film, underwent. These included the cruelty and insensitivity of the sexual harassments directed at the fictional character of Josey Aimes in “North Country” and to a real person named Lois Jenson in the book of Bingham and Gansler.  Well-depicted in both the film and book, all these violations of work rights and labor laws that happened in a workplace such as the Eveleth Mines which was characterized by an apparent hostility towards women definitely shocked the viewers and readers, respectively (Publishers Weekly).

            The Publishers Weekly added that even in a civilized atmosphere such as the court venue, the book’s presentation of a similarly cruel handling of the female characters, particularly by the defense counsels of the Eveleth Mines, is also a shocking violation of not only the women’s labor rights but their basic and personal rights as well (Publishers Weekly). The matter-of-fact presentation of the personal attacks against Eveleth’s defense counsels was a clear infringement of their basic right to privacy or personal life. This violation was demonstrated during an interrogation that explored and revealed about the previous sexual history and the most intimate components of the personal lives of the women characters. In view of the personal sacrifice that the women made and in spite of the victory of their legal battle, both the “North Country” and the Bingham and Gansler book serve as narrations that prevent and warn the public of the risk of facing those who fight a powerful company such as Eveleth Mines. They also served as tales of bittersweet jubilation of the effectivity of the law (Publishers Weekly).

            Cynthia Harrison of The Library Journal affirmed the above labor-related violation when it said that Bingham and Gansler’s book effectively presents how Jenson was subjected to offensive and persistent sexual harassment. Harrison also took note of using the phrase “nuts and sluts” as a the defense tactic employed by the lawyers of the Eveleth Mines, a scheme that unfortunately made the taconite mining company to shell out a whooping $15 million damage payment. Harrison, however, noted that while their fight was eventually justified, the plaintiffs has to bear not only the offensive sexual harassment but the cruel and agonizing trial procedure as well (qtd. in “Class Action…”).  This also holds true for the character of Aimes in the “North Country” film. Not only Aimes was sexually assaulted, her sexual life was also questioned and exploited during the litigation. Both the reel character of Aimes and real persona of Jenson were psychologically and emotionally injured due to the stress brought about by the sexual harassment, the violence and indifference of their colleagues, the duration of the judicial procedure and the aggressive manner of interrogations in relation with their search for justice and demand for damages.

            In their book, where the movie “North Country” was based, authors Bingham and Gansler narrated how the women workers of Eveleth Mines in Northern Minnesota had survived a sensational level of sexual harassment. This was their situation until one of the women named Lois Jenson fought and legally challenged the influential taconite mining company. Bingham and Gansler chronicled their book from the high-profiled case of “Jenson Versus Eveleth Mines.” It turned out to be the first celebrated sexual harassment class suit in the United States. It has also irreversibly altered the legal landscape and the lives of the women who battled and eventually won the case. Just like the turn of events in the “North Country” movie, the book tells of the unfair hiring practices which are evident right from Jenson’s first day on the mining site: the discrimination among women workers; the actual sexual harassments happening in a hostile working environment such the Eveleth Mines; the several profound and demeaning court interrogations, and the dramatic period of victory and settlement of damages. Bingham and Gansler also noted how it took Jenson almost three decades and most of her physical and mental strengths to legally challenge the Eveleth Mines.  However, with the help of women rights advocates and her fortune at having the finest group of lawyers that defended the sexual harassment class suit, Jenson and the other plaintiffs eventually won the fight and were fairly compensated for the damages it caused them (Bingham & Gansler, Front-Back Flaps).

            The Bingham and Gansler book also shows that a lot of women such as Jenson, who had evidently altered the modern history, are actually products of various social classes and cultural inheritance, despite the media’s foreseeable and conventional characterization of feminists as white activists belonging to the middle-class level. In fact, Jenson is not fully aware that her harsh or spirited determination had finally accomplished victory. One particular example is during a victory celebration where Jenson did not present herself as a heroine who fought and won against the Eveleth Mines. Bingham and Gansler specifically stated in their book that:

             Despair was what she knew and she had held steadfastly to it. For fifteen years, she         had been buried by the fight, unable to see the great significance of what she, and the           women who stood by her, had started. There in the mist of the party chatter, she let it   sink in. Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines would always bear her name, but now it had a life of           its own. And so did she. (382)

Jenson Versus Eveleth Mines

            “North Country” was also inspired from the chronicles of a true-to-life and celebrated case of “Jenson versus Eveleth Mines.” The movie, being the visual representation of the actual events that happened to Jenson, shows how a single mother benefited from a government affirmative action in 1974 of forcing industries to allot around 20 percent of their employment to women and members of the social groups. “North Country” clearly depicted how Jenson, represented by the character of Aimes, suffered the many unfair labor practices and other violation of work rights as one of the first women workers of the Eveleth Mines. As accounted in the facts of the case and interpreted in the film, aside from working painstakingly by cleaning carbon smut from big milling machines, Jenson and her colleagues survived cruel sexual and gender disgrace (“Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines”).

            According to the online source Sexual Harassment Support, Jenson filed a formal complaint to her employer and later to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights but both to no avail. This failure prompted her to quit her job at the mining company. Thereafter, the case of Jenson was taken by Paul Sprenger, a veteran discrimination lawyer. The Jenson case was filed in a district court in 1988 and eventually became the first sexual harassment case which was also regarded as a class action suit. The same online source added that despite the hurdles of the Jenson case, it eventually had a jury trial under Judge Lay of the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Jenson and the other women who were victims of the unfair labor practices and violation of work rights in Eveleth Mines eventually emerged as winners and were with $3.5 million for damages (“Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines”).

            Very similar to the “North Country,” both the fictional character of Aimes and the real-life Jenson as well as the other women victims depended on their conviction and dedication to fight not only for their personal rights but also for their labor rights. Jenson, as visually represented by Aimes in the movie, did not just sit down after they were sexually harassed nor accepted the violations of labor laws evidently existing at Eveleth Mines. In fact, these violations of personal and labor rights ignited their desire to seek justice and get even with their offenders. However, in so doing, they did not just suffer humiliation during court proceedings but also had endured the personal attacks hurled against them by the defense lawyers. The agonizing judicial procedure took a stall on their physical and mental health.  Judge Lay has even written that “it should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment engaged in by Eveleth Mines inevitably destroyed the self-esteem” (“Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines”).

Labor Law Violations: Case Study

            Aside from the actual reflection of sexual harassment in the “North Country” movie, it also manifested a violation of other labor laws such as women discrimination in workplaces. Citing the study made by the New York Women in Film and Television which surveyed a significant number of film viewers as participants, Silverman reported that “North Country” was selected in 2005 as the most significant movie for women to watch. Silverman said that the result of the case study stated that the relevance and effect of the movie to women was brought about by the increased awareness and concern over unfair labor practices or violations of labor laws. Specifically, the findings were based from the following reasons: First, the significantly increased number of women (totaling to 1.6 million) are now engaged in class-action suit versus Wal-Mart. This is characterized by sex discrimination cases as the prevailing offenses committed against women while at their workplaces (Silverman).

            Second, more than 35,000 and still increasing number of complaints of similar cases filed before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year made the “North Country” as the mirror of injustice in the work areas. The said survey discovered that exposure of women, particularly the women workers, to such kind of movie empowered them to legally fight for work-related injustices. The survey was also able to determine the above-cited sentiments especially after stating that women still face the same kind of abuses and other work-related violation even fifteen years after the settlement of the victorious case of Jenson against the Eveleth Mines (Silverman).

            Silverman also mentioned another workplace discrimination that is actually existing in Hollywood. She emphasized that Hollywood, being the home of the glitz and glamour, is not even exempted from such kind of unfair labor practice. According to a research presented by the “The Celluloid Ceiling by the Fund for Women Artists,” Silverman reported that the study revealed that “women comprised only 16% of all executive producers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 grossing films of 2004” (Silverman).  It was also discovered that aside from the fact that 21% of the movies shown in 2004 did not hire women for such top level positions, “not a single film failed to employ a man for at least one of these jobs” (Silverman). This evidently proves the existence of women discrimination even in a glamorous workplace, such as Hollywood, which is perceived to be an ideal and a just working environment promoting the labor rights of women (Silverman).

            In addition, Silverman reported that the law office that previously represented Jenson and her colleagues is also representing a group of screenwriters, composed of more than 40 members, who had filed a case of age discrimination against the Hollywood studios. Silverman mentioned that the complainants criticized that the company apparently favor the younger age group of workers than those who are fifty years old and above. Despite the fact a significant percentage of the workforce belongs to the older age group, they are given a limited or less chances of holding more positions. In particular, they lambasted that “gray list older writers, with statistics showing that 31% of all writers are over 50, yet they only hold 5% of the jobs” (Silverman). This complaint and the above cited case studies made films such as the “North Country” more applicable and persuasive to modern viewers. Moreover, because of the relevance of the issues presented in the movie, the audience was able to associate their personal lives to the plight of the aggrieved women workers of Eveleth Mines, particularly those who are directly concerned.

            While “North Country” emphasizes the sexual harassment case filed by the women workers, the film also presents that the other unfair working conditions are likewise punishing and risky for all the miners. Silverman mentioned in particular the explosion that happened at Sago coal mine in West Virginia that resulted in the death of twelve male workers. The accident, which caused the workers to be trapped and run out of oxygen, could have been prevented. Thus, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration summoned the mining company for “208 violations in 2005, on top of 144 violations cited by the West Virginia Office of Health and Safety” (Silverman). This coal mine tragedy made Silverman stress that mining should not be regarded as a mere historical job. While the “North Country” movie has successfully shown the risk posed by mining to women workers, it is worthwhile to note that all miners today, regardless of whether they are male or female, are still faced with the same work hazards in their lives (Silverman).

            Both the North Country film and Bingham and Gansler’s book clearly depicted how the miners were violated of their basic and labor rights. Majority of the miners apparently succumbed to the indifference and hostility of their workplace and colleagues. According to Bingham and Gansler, these miners pride themselves on working and drinking too much but are able to luckily endure difficult times at the hands of their employers (Bingham ; Gansler 7). The authors added that work in a mining company was considered to be the highest paying employment in the mid 1970s. As a result, the miners were able to survive and just fight for themselves, aside from the fact that they were provided with good health care and retirement payments. However, Bingham and Gansler noted that these privileges were faced with “an ingrained sense of job insecurity, hostile to any force that might displace them” (Bingham ; Gansler 8). Therefore, it is in such blatant infringement of human and work rights that made a woman, as portrayed by the character of Josey Aimes in the North Country film and Lois Jenson in the Bingham and Gansler’s book, to stand up and change her life.


            Films like “North Country” are already a winner in its own right, for the reason that it has successfully educated and ignited awareness among the public regarding the realities and dangers of unfair labor practices or violations of labor laws. Such kind of movie is not only a potential million-earner but serves as an effective tool in laying down and discussing relevant topics such as sexual harassment and other work-related violations. “North Country” enabled the people to realize that a movie can effectively reflect the realities of labor injustices. The film has presented the various facets of the rights of the women with regards to their sexuality, professional qualities and even physical strength. The fictional character of Aimes and the real persona of Jenson are representations of the modern women who continue to seek justice and recognition of their significant contributions to the society. Ultimately, the movie succeeded in enabling the public, who relate films to their respective personal lives, to critically act, legally fight for personal and labor rights, and strive to create an actual just workplace.

Works Cited

Bingham, Clara, and Laura Leedy Gansler. Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the          Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Harrison, Cynthia. “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That            Changed Sexual Harassment Law – Library Journal Editorial Reviews.” Reed          Business Information. 2002. 6 May 2008


“Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines.” 2006. Sexual Harassment Support. 6 May 2008             ;;.

North Country. Dir. Niki Caro. Perf. Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand. Warner Bros.

Pictures, 2005.

Publishers Weekly. “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That

Changed Sexual – Editorial Reviews.” 2002. Cahners Business Information. Amazon.Com. 6 May 2008 ;;.

Silverman, Eva. “Oscar-nominated Films Tell Real-life Workplace Stories.” Workplace    Fairness. 6 May 2008 ;;.

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