Book Reviews

16th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards

Author: Judith Pearson
Title: Plaintiff Blues
Catagory: Nonfiction
Judge: 59

Once again the "whistle blower" is punished for telling the truth, seeking justice, and then retaliated against most unfairly. Judith Pearson is not only courageous in taking on this [outrageous] job discrimination suit but also for detailing the account of her hugely unjust ordeal. A cautionary tale for others (probably women) who encounter the same kinds of discrimination, the entire story is guaranteed to upset, rankle and cause disbelief in the reader. The reader roots for Ms. Pearson while she recalls the painful day-to-day facts, perhaps burning bridges in her own community with each chapter. Her straightforward account as she lived this horror is broadened by the players or characters in her life, which she ably brings into the story, and the dialogue adds immediacy.

This is a story that deserves much more exposure than it probably will get. Advertising the book on relevant age/job/women discrimination web sites may boost sales, garner interest. The story itself is worthy of a film documentary, like Russell Crowe's "The Insider." I wish this woman much luck in selling her book, getting the word out about the rampant discrimination that she experienced.

16th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards

Author: Judith Pearson
Title: Plaintiff Blues
Catagory: Life Stories
Judge: 52

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It is a finely written, well organized work that is incredibly important (and at times incredibly infuriating) in its message. It is clear that you put a great deal of time and effort into the planning, crafting and revising of this book - those qualities are evident through the readable, conversational style and the many insightful, moving (and sometimes quite funny) passages.

Your writing style - a terrific blend of no-nonsense straight talk and fluid conversation, always authoritative but never self-important -- draws the reader in and keeps his or her attention. The strength of your character and convictions come through this book clearly and eloquently. It's an honor to read a well-written book by someone who has worked so hard for what she believes in, and for the rights of others who might not be able to fight as hard as you have. Thanks for sharing your story!

Plaintiff Blues
Judith Pearson
Lake Vermillion Publishing

June 8, 2008

Civil rights movements are always a slow moving progress, with major clashes still happening well past the 1960s, the height of the movement. "Plaintiff Blues: Job Discrimination and the Chilling Effect of Retaliation" is the story of a woman's application to become principal - only to be quickly rejected because of her sex. She took it to court on discrimination and that's what the book focuses on - when to file a civil suit, the potential backlash, common sense, and much more. "Plaintiff Blues: Job Discrimination and the Chilling Effect of Retaliation" is highly recommended for community library social issues collections.

(I'm very pleased to announce that the June 2008 issue of our online book review magazine "Small Press Bookwatch" features "Plaintiff Blues". This review also appears in the Cengage Learning, Gale interactive CD-ROM series "Book Review Index" (published four times yearly for academic, corporate, and public library systems); as well as such book review databases as Lexus-Nexus and Goliath; and will be archived on the Midwest Book Review website at for five years. - James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief)

International Falls Daily Journal

July 1, 2008 by LAUREL BEAGER, Editor

Langan featured in book

"Plaintiff Blues" details woman's story of discrimination and retailiation.
A book written by an Iron Range resident that features a local school superintendent has recently won several awards.
"Plaintiff Blues: Job Discrimination and the Chilling Effect of Retaliation" written by Judith Pearson of Lake Vermilion, has won national awards in three categories from the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Earlier this year, Plaintiff Blues won national recognition in the Memoir category from the 2008 Eric Hoffer Awards for Books, recognizing freethinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit.
Pearson's story describes the job discrimination she says she encountered in two northeastern Minnesota school districts. The lawsuit she won against the St. Louis County School District was followed by devastating retaliation. Pearson's 17-year story starts in 1986 when she applied for the Cook high school principal position and was told, "Hell will freeze over before we hire a woman principal at the Cook High School," and "The rumor is that you are sleeping with the superintendent!" She sued and won.
Pearson's book gives readers the story behind the newspaper headlines, including the personal and professional costs she paid for exercising her civil rights.
The book, published in 2007, features among other people Falls School District Don Langan, who Pearson says retaliated against her and others for budget decisions and filing grievances by transferring them to other jobs.
Langan told The Journal that he had not read the book.
"Claims of retaliation or discrimination, whatever, the author of the book took all of those claims to every administrative remedy including court and failed to prevail on any of them," Langan said. "That's why the title, Plaintiff Blues. The plaintiff is blue because she could not and did not prevail."
The author of the 378-page book coins the phrase "Langanese," which she describes as his use and manipulation of language as a control tactic.
"I thought at first he was just trying to impress everyone with his vocabulary. I later concluded there as a more sinister motive. Control," she writes in the book.
Meanwhile, the book details a search for a superintendent for School District 2142, which results in Langan's hiring. The process was described by The Duluth News Tribune as "prolonged and somewhat bizarre," according to Pearson. Langan's candidacy for the position was announced after other candidates had been named finalists. Pearson also claims the process violated the state's Open Meeting Law by conducting board meetings and calling them study sessions.
Pearson will sign copies of her books at the Great Virginia Get-Together, July 1-6 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., in the North Room of the Miners' Memorial Building and at Woodward's Bookstore in the Thunderbird Mall, July 3, 2-4 p.m. Books are available at Woodward's, and the Mineview Visitors' Center, just south of Virginia.
Published book reviews and additional readers comments can be viewed at Books are also available at,

June 30, 2008 by Janna Goerdt

Former principal's book recounts gender discrimination battle

COOK - Judy Pearson was sleeping with the St. Louis County schools superintendent — of course she was. Why else would she be considered as a candidate for the Cook School principal position in 1986?
That was the rumor that sparked a lengthy gender discrimination lawsuit against the school district and some members of the Cook community.
Pearson, a gravel-voiced woman who lives on Lake Vermilion and loves to fish and shoot clay pigeons with her husband, recently wrote a book about her experiences with gender discrimination in 1986. In it, she also describes what she considers retaliation for raising questions about the district's superintendent hiring process in 1997.
Much has changed for women wanting to work as principals and superintendents in the years since she began, Pearson said. Discrimination is "not as blatant," she said. "People are getting more and more educated. But that's driven it underground; people get more sophisticated" about employing retaliation or discrimination.
"Plaintiff Blues" is a blow-by-blow account of Pearson's career. It begins with her 1979 job in Buhl as the first female high school principal on the Iron Range, where the local principals' organization half-heartedly tried to keep her from attending their meetings before warming up to a woman in the job. It ends with her retirement from the St. Louis County schools in 2001 after working as a principal in two of the district's schools, though not in Cook.
In between were decades of rage and sadness, some support, and some dismissal. Pearson filed her first lawsuit against the district in 1987, about a year before Lois Jenson signed on with a landmark class-action lawsuit over sexual harassment at an iron ore mine in Eveleth — the case that inspired the 2005 film "North Country."
St. Louis County schools Assistant Superintendent Sidney Simonson says Pearson's allegations concerning the school district "are very, very false." He was with the district when Pearson filed her second lawsuit, though not her first.
"She's lashing out at all district personnel," Simonson said. "I sympathize with her, with her circumstances. She was not given opportunities she felt she should have, and she has taken it out on other people."
Yet Pearson said she made the right decisions in fighting discriminatory practices.
"I would do it again, without a doubt," Pearson said, looking back on the experience. "I probably couldn't live with myself if I didn't."
When Joann Knuth first walked into a gathering of Minnesota principals in the mid-1980s, she saw a sea of men and no other women. Knuth is executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. Today's more welcoming climate is due in large part to people who mentored and encouraged women to enter school administration, Knuth said. Even now, smaller, rural areas are less accepting of women administrators than Twin Cities-area schools, she said.
"That mentality may still exist in places today," Knuth said. "But in large measure, we have seen excellence from women in administration and continuing numbers of women entering educational administration."
Knuth, who did her student teaching in Duluth, became the first woman to head the association representing 1,111 active principals. Today, about a third of those principals are women.
"Women bring an intuitive, nurturing aspect to the job," Knuth said. "The women I have worked with do not bring a competitive model to their leadership; they go into positions with a sense of cooperation, of collaboration."
Pearson joined the association in 1979 and was one of the first women to do so, Knuth said. She called Pearson one of those "pioneers of women in educational leadership."
A smaller proportion of women hold superintendent jobs in Minnesota schooldistricts.
"It's a traditionally male role," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. However, more women than men hold assistant superintendent or equivalent positions in the state.
"One of the challenges they run into is trying to manage a family and manage the time needed to be a superintendent," Kyte said. "You put in so much time, it's hard to be in that traditional ‘mom' role."
Kyte also said parents in a few Minnesota communities "are still male-centric; they see themselves as being led by a male." If he knows of a female superintendent interested in applying at such a community, Kyte said, he tries to steer them elsewhere.
"Other women have paved the way for me," said Proctor Schools Superintendent Diane Raushenfels. The district had already had one female superintendent by the time Raushenfels took the position in 2002. She said it didn't seem remarkable to do so, though at least one district teacher was concerned that the district had a female superintendent and high school and middle school principals, she said.
"I have such a different way of operating," Raushenfels said. "I build a climate where risk and change [among district staff] are encouraged, where some of the men at my table are more interested in how to fight the system, how to beat the teachers at their own game."
As she stayed embroiled in her fight with the district, Pearson said she wondered many times why she couldn't just "suck it up and move on."
"I don't have an answer," Pearson said. "I wrestled with it … but it always really pisses me off when I see something that's unfair."
Today, Pearson is still fielding calls seeking advice about gender discrimination and retaliation. She won't give much advice, except how to access equal employment opportunity commission forms and other information.
But she does tell callers this: Trust your own instincts.
"I always encourage them to do the right thing, because if no one says anything, nothing changes," Pearson said. "But people have to make their own decisions, because they have to live with the consequences."
A number of administrators named in Pearson's book are still with the St. Louis County schools, while the superintendent named in her retaliation lawsuit was abruptly terminated by the St. Louis County School Board in 2004.
And a new administrator is set to begin work at AlBrook School on Tuesday — her name is Kristi Berlin.

Background information about Pearson's lawsuits

"Hell will freeze over before we hire a woman principal for the Cook school," a Cook resident and member of the Cook Chamber of Commerce said, some days after Judy Pearson had interviewed for just that position.
The Cook resident confirmed later in court that he did, indeed, say that.
Pearson uses the quote several times in her book "Plaintiff Blues." She recounts how she was passed over for the principal position in favor of a man with less experience and a history of job-hopping.
"I could handle not getting a job because I wouldn't move to town, or lack of experience or a doctorate degree, even a poor interview," Pearson writes. "Those were all factors I could change. But like race, gender can't be changed. You are helpless and hopeless; there's nothing you can do. This is the fuel of rage."
By the time her tenure with the St. Louis County schools ended in 2001, Pearson had sued the district and some members of the Cook Chamber of Commerce for gender discrimination over the Cook school principal position in 1986; she also had sued the district for allegedly discriminating and retaliating against her in 1997 and 1999.
A Duluth jury decided the first case in Pearson's favor and awarded her $135,000 in damages. She reached a $10,000 settlement agreement with the editor of the weekly Cook News-Herald, who was part of a citizens group that interviewed Pearson for the Cook principal position.
Pearson later sued the district over a series of decisions in its 1997 superintendent search. Pearson was a finalist; the board selected a candidate who entered the field at the last minute. Pearson alleged that the superintendent, Dr. Donald Langan, retaliated against her — including transferring her from Orr to Tower-Soudan — for raising concerns about the hiring process.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found there was reasonable cause to believe that Pearson had been discriminated against during the superintendent search, but a U.S. District Court judge in Duluth later dismissed Pearson's claim of retaliation.
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics, only a small number of discrimination or retaliation claims come to a resolution. The commission dismisses about half of the claims that are filed for having "no reasonable cause."

About the book

"Plaintiff Blues" is Judy Pearson's 378-page account of winning a gender discrimination lawsuit and losing over alleged retaliation by St. Louis county school district administrators. Pearson recently won several national book awards, including an Eric Hoffer Book Award and several Next Generation Indie Book Awards. The self-published book is available for order at

June, 2008 by Ed Borowiec, Angora, MN

Review and Analysis!

This article is less a review and more an analysis of some of the critical issues the book raises. Some of the reviews of the book simply recap the events of the narrative and the tribulations of the author -- in St. Louis County schools and courts.
Recently, the book won two awards and is a candidate for a third, all of which suggests that the book has some cogency for readers beyond the county. I am a retired educator and attorney and I feel the book's import has not been thoroughly or fairly assessed.
Far too frequently these days, it seems, books are written about events, actions, policies, or beliefs, and their consequences, which would have been better left behind in the 20th Century. We, as a nation, are still wrestling with issues of discrimination - in gender, race, age, nationality, ethnicity, and religion (genetics is the newest member of the group); all of these have been, for the most part, outlawed in our social order but, apparently, they cannot yet be banished from the human heart. Although the law is designed to alter intentions and conduct that negatively affect others by bringing undue harm or pain or financial loss, it does not touch the crucial basepoint of human relations - attitudes.
Judith Pearson's 2007 book Plaintiff Blues is a memoir of "job discrimination and the chilling effect of retaliation" as it surfaced in St. Louis County, Minnesota - specifically, in two Iron Range school districts over a period of 17 years beginning in the mid-1980s. It is a book of community attitudes gone awry. Overtones of sexual discrimination throughout the book suggest that Pearson's experiences in many ways mirror those suffered by Lois Jenson in Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler's book Class Action, which described a case that altered the landscape of sexual harassment law in the United States. But professional discrimination is just as odious, and in the long run, just as detrimental to the human psyche and spirit.
The powerful message of Plaintiff Blues has now reached well beyond the domain of northeast Minnesota. The book recently won the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award for excellence in independent publishing, and now it has been named a finalist in the Education/Academic and Social Change categories and a winner of the Women's Issues category of the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. These are significant accolades both for the author and the community. They tell us that someone else is reading and listening and that the impact of the book extends far beyond our narrow corner of the world. We now know that what we've learned about our schools and ourselves is of interest to others elsewhere. It is the inevitable triumph of the human spirit that resonates and perseveres.
But Mrs. Pearson's book is far more than a memoir or personal narrative of the pain, anguish, professional humiliation, and financial loss suffered at the hands of fellow educators and community leaders. It is the story of a system, a process, badly in need of reformation. A fundamental principle affecting the internal operation of our schools, colleges and universities, and our religious institutions is that the judiciary (the law and the courts) will interfere in their activities, policies, and decisions only as a matter of last resort. And therein lies the problem.
At the same time, no one should expect the courts to become involved with the daily minutiae of running a school district, a college, or a house of worship. Yet, somewhere between the hands-off and hands-on extremes, the law and the courts may have to adopt a more direct role to protect the rights and professional welfare of those who toil selflessly, and often at great personal and financial sacrifice, for the public and common good. Generally, the courts have been reluctant to meddle in school and church affairs for fear of opening the floodgates to a host of litigants who would sue a district to improve the coffee quality in the teachers' lounge. This is a genuine and realistic concern, but at the same time, it would not ask much of our legal system, under standard causes of action and forms of discovery, to determine in an independent hearing whether a matter of vital concern to our schools should proceed on its merits.
A much more effective approach to resolving educational disputes, one less intrusive and costly, must be developed to spare educators in a personnel tug-of-war, like Mrs. Pearson, from prolonged and systematic humiliation, retaliation, and serious, life-altering financial burdens. That she survived not one but two legal battles is strong testament to her will, determination, sense of self worth, and the propriety of her efforts to achieve both personal satisfaction and professional vindication.
How many would be willing to confront the educational establishment - the district administration, the board of trustees, and other powerful civic leaders - and endure the "slings and arrows" of these powerful forces when they converge to destroy one's dignity and career? How many would risk financial hardship or ruin to engage them in a court of law where winning merely gives you only what you should have had in the first place - and where losing leads to the complete disintegration of a way of life and livelihood? The options are immense and frightening, and few would have exhibited the courage, the gumption, and the internal strength Mrs. Pearson showed to justify her professional accomplishments, the validity of her principles, and her legal rights and ethical values. Certainly, her family proved to be the rock upon which she pursued her path to vindication, but it was also her strong inner-driven resolve to overcome the harassment, the deceptions and distortions, the gender bias, the transparent attempts at retaliation, the direct and indirect threats, the lies, and the cronyism.
Somewhere, in all of the turmoil Mrs. Pearson's experienced on her long road to justice and the return of her dignity, the school districts that employed her forgot the central driving principle of all those involved in education: what is best for the students? The students do not benefit from wasting time, money, and resources on disputes that flow from the abuse of power, from school leaders who are more interested in building empires than sound school policy and practices. The students do not benefit from school and community people who fail to correct obvious wrongs but instead plead ignorance or look the other way. Students do not benefit from having unqualified individuals in positions of administrative leadership, individuals who owe their allegiance to those who appointed them to their positions. And finally, students are not helped by community leaders who threaten, cajole, or influence others to act in an illegal or unfair manner with respect to the operation of a school district.
One might ask - where was the community interest among school and community leaders, the cooperation and collegiality, the common sense, and a concomitant sense of the common good? All of these noble human characteristics were sadly absent and replaced by divisiveness, stubbornness, prejudice, retribution, vengeance, ignorance, and incompetence. How can our children, our students ever profit from such a prolonged exhibition of some of the worst features of our human nature? Students and schools always suffer when we fail to think and act in their best interests. Disputes and differences can be resolved amicably without damaging our social institutions, but that requires a different perspective, a different methodology - mainly, a change of attitude.
Our legal system is not perfect nor is it always efficient or even fair. Still, there is room for improving the way individuals gain access to the courts and to attorneys - and the way they proceed through the maelstrom of litigation. For someone who had her eye on the basic principle at all times - what's best for the students? - Mrs. Pearson paid too great a price. Her personal pain and sacrifice were more than one person should endure in the quest to be heard and to right obvious wrongs.
The silver lining in all of this is that she opened up her life and experience to transmit all that she learned - about the schools, the law, and herself - to others so that they might benefit from knowing that their lives, their careers, their families could be thrust into tension, turmoil, and even tragedy at any moment. The dark forces of upheaval will always exist on the periphery of our experience and imagination, but they can be denied by a community attitude to work honestly and faithfully toward the common welfare. Plaintiff Blues shows us the way.

June 23, 2007 by Marshall Helmberger

Pearson takes no prisoners in school expose!

Former St. Louis County School District Principal Judy Pearson has written a devastating critique of the hiring practices once used by the school district she served for nearly a decade, and the high personal cost to those who choose to fight when public officials are unjust.
Her self-published, 378-page broadside, titled "Plaintiff Blues: Job Discrimination and the Chilling Effect of Retaliation," is likely to cause more than a ripple across ISD 2142 as it provides an insider's account of a troubled period in the district's recent history. Pearson's recounting names and she drops more than a few bombshells, including allegations that past and present school board members and others may have lied under oath and that a district administrator once had his license suspended for nearly two years in the 1990s for repeated sexual improprieties.
But her fascinating story is worthwhile for far more than insider gossip. Pearson likens herself to Madame DeFarge, of Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities," and perhaps the most troubling thread she knits is the one that reveals the damage that retaliation wrought, not only to herself, but to the governance of the school district.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pearson's story, she successfully sued the St. Louis County School Board in the late 1980s, after they hired a less qualified man to serve as the principal of the Cook School. Pearson, who was highly-regarded as a principal for the Mt. Iron-Buhl School District, had bought a home on the west end of Lake Vermilion in 1986 and she and her family had planned to move there the following year.
The job opening in Cook, for which she applied, had seemed like a perfect opportunity, but it would prove to be the beginning of a nearly decade-long series of legal battles that left scars district wide. While Pearson's eventual court victory forced the district to hire her as Orr Principal in 1992, she says her decision to apply for openings as both superintendent and assistant superintendent continued a pattern of discrimination and retaliation that severely undermined morale among principals and teachers throughout the district.
As Pearson writes, in its efforts to avoid promoting her, the school board made a number of questionable decisions, elevating unqualified or unfit individuals into key administrative positions, often in a last-minute and poorly considered manner.
Perhaps the worst such example was the hiring of Dr. Don Langan, who had initially rejected an offer from the district to take over from the retiring Dan Mobilia. Langan appeared qualified on paper, but his almost maniacal need for control and his penchant for ruthless retaliation had left a troubled trail of lawsuits and disenchantment at other districts where he had served. But the school board failed to properly investigate Langan's history and they turned to him in near desperation weeks later when they learned at the last minute that the individual they had wanted to promote to the job - a man with fewer qualifications than Pearson - had lost his license for two years for sexual improprieties.
Pearson recounts how the district's decision to hire Langan over her led to a never-ending cavalcade of schemes and intrigue, including blatant favoritism towards his friends and allies, that left the district in disarray and eventually led to his ouster by the school board. Pearson, who had challenged an early effort by Langan to slash school budgets at Orr, Tower, and Cotton, was the frequent target of Langan's scheming. At one point, she alleges, he even offered huge raises to the district's principals, but only if Pearson would sign a letter of resignation - an obvious attempt to isolate Pearson from her fellow principals. Langan also used retaliatory transfers to punish Pearson, and her transfer to Tower eventually led to another legal challenge. While the federal Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission found probable cause for her suit, it was eventually dismissed by a hostile judge.
What is perhaps most sad about the situation was that the school district likely missed an opportunity to hire an honest, capable, and innovative administrator in Pearson, who might have moved the district forward, rather than leaving it in disarray. It's interesting to note that even as the school board and Langan showed such disdain for Pearson, school staff, parents, and students routinely found her able, thoughtful, and fair.
In the end, Pearson's determination to challenge decisions she viewed as unjust proved costly, both financially and emotionally. Her story, in that regard, is remarkably similar to that of another iron Range woman - Lois Jensen - who experienced the grueling consequences of retaliation and isolation that frequently go hand-in-hand with legal challenges to workplace discrimination. As with Jensen's story, recounted in the best-selling book "Class Action" and the movie "North Country," Pearson's health suffered. She lost sleep, saw her blood pressure spike to dangerous levels and even suffered a heart attack. She also, like Jensen, was ultimately disappointed in the workings of the U.S. justice system.
Much of the history in Pearson's book appeared, at least in broad strokes, in reports in area newspapers, which she quotes from at length. While Pearson was the frequent target of editorial criticism from Cook News Herald Publisher Gary Albertson (who was named and ultimately paid damages to Pearson for his own involvement in the discrimination case against her) Pearson lobs a few volleys of her own - accusing him of being dishonest as well a lapdog for a school district that has helped finance his business for years through printing and publishing contracts.
At the same time, Pearson lauds the reporting of the Timberjay, which she said "courageously performed the highest ethical calling, to monitor and hold accountable those in public positions of authority and power."
Some individuals come under withering fire in Pearson's account. Few more so that Chet Larson, the former chair of the St. Louis County School Board, who fought for years to keep Pearson from the professional advancement she sought. Larson, she writes, repeatedly perjured himself, both in sworn depositions as well as in court testimony.
Her own attorney, Richard Williams, is described as arrogrant, angry, and incompetent. Williams wasn't Pearson's first choice, but was her fallback after her original lawyer backed out when her firm discovered a potential conflict of interest.
A few others get more more favorable treatment. Former superintendent Dan Mobilia, who took the helm of the district after the disputed Cook hiring, gets a mostly sympathetic portrayal, especially in comparison to his successor. And surprisingly, she even gives a nod to Cook resident Russ Pascuzzi, whose alleged quote, "Hell will freeze over before we'll hire a woman to be the principal at the Cook School," is played prominently in the book. But Pascuzzi, she said, was one of the only defendants in the case who actually testified truthfully- and he was quickly released from the suit.
"Plaintiff Blues" can be ordered at,, or at

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