Research Summary

My scholarship addresses issues of gender, law, and inequality, with a focus on employment discrimination law and family law. Critical to much of my research have been questions concerning the legal regulation of nontraditional families, how law can disrupt discriminatory processes of exclusion within institutions such as workplaces, and the relationship between sex-based and economic inequality. Methodologically, my research employs social science in service of advancing legal knowledge.

Education

  • J.S.D., Law, Columbia University
  • LL.M., Law, Columbia University
  • J.D., Law, University of Maryland
  • B.A., Political Science, The George Washington University

Biography

Professor Laura T. Kessler is an expert in family law and employment discrimination. She has published extensively on these matters in law reviews and scholarly collections. She teaches family law, comparative family law, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, civil procedure, and feminist jurisprudence.

Professor Kessler's work combines legal, historical, and emprical methods to further legal knowledge. For example, her study, Family Law by The Numbers: The Story That Casebooks Tell (2020), tells the complicated story of American Family Law based on a content analysis of nearly 100 casebooks published from 1960 to 2019 ― how it was remade in the second half of the twentieth century as a discipline concerned with an expanding range of intimate relationships, yet remained centered on traditional marriage. Her recent book chapter, Reynolds v. United States, Rewritten (2019), examines the jurisprudential legacy of the decades-long federal campaign to criminalize Mormon polygamy in the nineteenth century. This chapter shines a light not only on the founders' broader purpose in adopting the First Amendment, but also how the Supreme Court's 1879 decision upholding the conviction of Mormon polygamists undercut the agency of women in polygamous unions―wives who refused to testify against their husbands, protested the federal government's treatment of Mormon communities, and who were among the first women in the United States to vote. Her article, Employment Discrimination and the Domino Effect (2017), distills a large body of social science research on the psychological and social processes of workplace discrimination into a simple, familiar concept that can be used by lawyers and judges to understand and analyze employment discrimination cases.

Professor Kessler is a co-author of the leading gender and the law case book, WOMEN AND THE LAW (Libby Adler, Aziza Ahmed, Judith Greenberg, Laura Kessler & Rachel Rebouché eds., Foundation Press, forthcoming 2021).

In 2018-2019, Professor Kessler served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Israel, where she undertook research on the human rights impacts of Israel's state-enforced religious family laws and taught comparative family law in Haifa University's Global Law Program.

Professor Kessler has participated in many amicus briefs on behalf of individuals seeking equal family rights in the United States. She was the co-author (with two Berkeley law professors and the National Center for Lesbian Rights) of an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Kitchen v. Herbert, the successful legal challenge to Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. The brief, filed on behalf of forty family law and child welfare professors nationwide, argued that Utah’s marriage ban undermines rather than furthers the state’s interests in children and child welfare.

Prior to joining the University of Utah law faculty, Professor Kessler clerked for the Honorable Ronald L. Ellis in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, litigated class-action civil rights cases for the ACLU of Maryland, and served as a teaching fellow at Columbia Law School.

Areas of Expertise

Family Law

Employment Discrimination

Feminist Jurisprudence

Law and Social Sciences

Women and Legal Education