UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday ran a story that says a former woman assistant at the law firm where Ms. Plevan worked sued her later saying Mr. Plevan made sexual advances to her without consent.
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By Teri Christoph
Former Indiana-based attorney Bettina Plevan died Tuesday at 75, according to the Journal with startling details that she was allegedly sexually harassed by her supervisor: a partner at a large law firm in Indiana.
Bettina Plevan, a 57-year-old litigator who broke through the glass ceiling and broke up a half-century-old “boys club” of men heading the courts, made headlines in 2010 for being the first female partner at the law firm of Zions Huntington—a full-blooded minority firm. After her firm fell under intense scrutiny, it reorganized into a smaller holding company where Plevan’s litigation practice became a seniority plan.
While on vacation in 2009, she was looking for a vacation home when she came across an estate listed for $300,000 in Gary, Ind. The former house was built in 1923 and was in the historic Dust Bowl area of western Indiana near where Elmo Quimby built a hotel in the 1930s to support the immigrant workers building the Erie Canal.
Plevan, who says she couldn’t afford to buy the place but was willing to rent it from someone else, asked the property owner if he would want to have her on as a tenant if she bought the place for $500,000.
The owner, a trucking company executive with a mountain bike in the front yard, said yes.
But there was a hitch: Would she wear pants?
The stunned woman—with a briefcase full of documents—spoke about this with the man’s wife, a lifelong feminist who wanted to be comfortable with how a woman lived. Plevan told the woman she would not need to wear pants and that she could wear shorts if she wanted.
That’s when the tense conversation took a turn for the better. Plevan asked if they could go out and walk in the park as a couple. The woman agreed. They walked and talked and the woman told Plevan that the house was finally hers and never wanted to be returned.
Plevan’s unexpected step up the law firm ladder was fodder for high profile newspapers and local TV. She was quoted in at least 17 articles and interviews, and appeared as a keynote speaker at conferences and campuses, such as Law Day and the Association of Women’s Law Offices meeting in Chicago.
Plevan was considered the tip of the spear for women and minority-owned law firms, a form of leadership for women lawyers who are building better representations for their gender, race and ethnicity at the law firm’s top rungs, and also in the courts.