In 1968, Sandra I. Rothenberg applied for a position as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover advised her “that our Special Agent position must be limited to males,” because of the “strenuous physical exertion” required to perform the job. Rothenberg was undeterred and became the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination by the FBI. This historic case led the way to other discrimination lawsuits and helped many other women to obtain expanded opportunities nationwide.
In 1969, Rothenberg was the first woman admitted to Georgetown Law School’s prestigious E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship program and later became its first female director. In 1972, while practicing law in Colorado, Rothenberg successfully represented Janet Bonnema, a female engineer who was denied the right to work at the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel because of her gender. An article in Life Magazine highlighting Bonnema’s lawsuit called Rothenberg “one of a new breed of lawyers handling sex discrimination cases.” Rothenberg also co-taught the first Women and Law classes at the University of Colorado School of Law and University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
In 1978, Rothenberg became a Founding Mother of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and served as its second President. In 1979, she was appointed to the Denver District Court, becoming one of Colorado’s first female judges. In 1990, she became one of the first female appellate judges and served nineteen years on the Colorado Court of Appeals.
One of Rothenberg’s favorite roles, apart from being a mother to her daughter, Amy, has been to mentor others in the legal profession. She has been active in the Denver Bar Association, President of the Thomas G. Marsh Inns of Court, and continues as an active senior judge on the Court of Appeals. Rothenberg has also been a foster parent, a para-chaplain for Jewish Family Services, and, as a two-time cancer survivor, she has helped many others cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her many recognitions include the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Distinguished Jurist Award and the CWBA’s Mary Lathrop Trailblazer Award.