KRAVITCH, PHYLLIS (1920– ), senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Kravitch received her bachelor's degree from Goucher College in 1941 and her LL.B. degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she served on the editorial board of the Law Review, in 1943. Though she graduated near the top of her class, she was unable to obtain a federal clerkship – or even an interview for a position with a law firm – because of her gender. She returned to Savannah to practice law with her father, Aaron Kravitch, at a time when there were very few female lawyers.
Kravitch engaged in a general trial practice from 1944 to 1976 and was active in civil rights litigation. As a member of the Chatham County Board of Education from 1949 to 1955, she fought to eradicate sex- and race-based salary inequalities and the use of substandard buildings for minority schools. She helped establish the Savannah Area Family Emergency Shelter for battered women and the Savannah Rape Crisis Center. She served on the selection committees for Rhodes Scholars, White House Fellows, and Truman Scholars.
In 1975 Kravitch was elected the first female president of the Savannah Bar Association. In 1976 she was the first woman to be elected a superior court judge in the state of Georgia. When President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1979, she became the first woman to be appointed to the federal bench in the Southeast and the third woman in the nation to be appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1981 the Eleventh Circuit was created from the Fifth Circuit; Kravitch, one of the 12 original judges of the Eleventh Circuit, was designated a senior judge in 1996 at the age of 76, having remained on active status long after she was eligible for senior status.
Kravitch authored many noteworthy rulings, including the decision in Sparks v. Pilot Freight Carriers (1987) that a sexual harassment plaintiff in a Title VII action was not required to demonstrate an employer's liability for a supervisor's actions. She ruled in United States v. Evans (1990) that passive acceptance of a benefit by a public official would be sufficient to form the basis of a Hobbs Act violation if the official knew that he was being offered payment in exchange for an exercise of official power.
Considered a pioneer in a judiciary long dominated by men, Kravitch received many honors, including the National Council of Jewish Women's Hannah G. Solomon Award in 1978, the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award in 1991, the James Wilson Award from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1992, and an honorary degree from Emory University in 1998.