Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Pink Panties Revenge

Pink Panties Revenge

More From Barbara

In this video

Burns tells the story of the humorous way she combated some early sexual harassment on the job.

Barbara's Biography

Secret to a Happy Marriage: “Treat your husband or your wife the same way you did on your first date.”
Most Meaningful Advice:  From her father: “To be honest and always remember that I was no better than anyone else but I was no less.  And not to worry about things, to deal with them.”
Biggest Influences: “All the women that preceded me that were brave enough to go into non-traditional jobs.”
“Not a Quitter”: After sticking out a thirteen-year sexual harassment suit Burns knows a thing or two about perseverance: “When you get discouraged just take a deep breath, wait a day or two, and just start over.”

Barbara Burns was one of the first female coal miners in the country and an ‘everywoman’ champion against sexual harassment in the workplace. The oldest of eight, Burns grew up in West Virginia, in a family where almost all the men were coal miners. By 1975, she was a mother of two, with ambitions to pursue nursing and a husband in poor health. Eager to earn more than she could in the low-wage, female-dominated jobs she was working—waitress, cashier, she went to work in the mines as one of the first female coal miners in the country. Burns went underground and worked her way up to foreman before being recruited to Smoot Coal as a lab technician in 1984.
 
At Smoot, Burns found herself the target of aggressive sexual advances and stalking by her boss, the company president. She endured the escalating harassment for months, scared to quit because of her husband’s failing health and the threat of being blacklisted from another job in the coal industry. But in 1986, unable to take it any longer, she sought out attorney Betty Jean Hall and filed a complaint with the West Virginia Commission on Human Rights. Excruciatingly, the case dragged on until 2000, when the West Virginia Supreme Court finally ruled in her favor. Meanwhile, Burns’ sexual harassment case, the first from a coal miner, encouraged Burns’ coal miner peers and women in other industries to move forward with their own complaints, and they often turned to Burns for advice and support. Burns became a nurse, a cattle farmer, and a grandmother of four.

Related Videos

Dee Dee Myers
Dee Dee Myers
Political Analyst

Dee Dee Myers is a groundbreaking political analyst and former White House press secretary. After graduating from Santa Clara University, Dee Dee Myers took on a full-time role on...

Sherry Lansing
Sherry Lansing
Pioneer Studio Executive & Philanthropist

Sherry Lansing was a trailblazer, visionary, and leader in the motion picture business for almost 30 years and involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of more than ...

Rebecca Morris
Rebecca Morris
Abstract Painter

Rebecca Morris is known for revitalizing abstract painting through her acclaimed artwork. Among her many accomplishments, Morris is the recipient of the 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship,...

Gabrielle Hamilton
Gabrielle Hamilton
Chef & Author

Gabrielle Hamilton is "not convinced that it is important to make a living at the thing that you aspire to," a perfect outlook for this chef & author. Initially aspir...