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Paul Sprenger, Great Lawyer and Philanthropist, Dies at 74
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great lawyer and philanthropist dies

Summary: Paul Sprenger, a ground-breaking lawyer who fought sexual discrimination, has died after having worked an inspiring career.

Along with the passing of 2014, we’ve seen the passing of a great lawyer, Paul C. Sprenger, a groundbreaking lawyer who took on sexual harassment cases, racial discrimination cases, and age-discrimination cases, before semi-retiring into a life of philanthropy.


As his wife and law partner, Jane Lang, said, he seems to have died from a heart attack while snorkeling on a vacation in Curaçao. He was 74 when he passed, having survived prostate cancer 17 years ago, and the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago.

Mr. Sprenger first worked to fight gender discrimination when he represented Shyamala Rajender who worked as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota. The university had never tenured a woman in the hard sciences.

“It was the first sex discrimination class action against a university,” said Ms. Lang. “He won a 10-year consent decree, and it changed higher education for women.”

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It wouldn’t be the only “first,” for Sprenger. He also took on the Eveleth Taconite Company in a sexual harassment case on behalf of Lois Jenson, who complained of the plight female miners endured at the company, including sexual harassment, stalking, being pinched, and, a week after she mailed a complaint to the State Department of Human Rights, in 1984, having her tires slashed.

The case went on for a decade, and was the first class-action lawsuit based on sexual harassment. The case was finally settled in 1998 with Eveleth giving 15 women $3.5 million.

Sprenger turned to this sort of representation early on in his career. As his wife said, “He’d been an insurance defense lawyer, but when he discovered what a great feeling it was to win something for someone who didn’t have anything, he said, being a plaintiff’s lawyer was a no-brainer.”

Certainly she herself was won over by his vision. They met when representing opposite sides of a case, he on the side of black employees of Burlington Northern Railroad, and she on the railroad’s side. The two reached a settlement. Later, they merged their practices in 1989, becoming Sprenger & Lang, and marrying the next year.

In later years, the two practiced law a little less, and turned to philanthropy, founding the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, giving $24 million to the center.

Sprenger could be said to have lead a respectable life as a lawyer, representing clients he believed deserved justice, spending his old age in philanthropy, and even dying while enjoying a vacation. He is survived by his wife, son, two daughters, two stepchildren, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.


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