Dr. Phyllis A. Wallace, professor emerita of management at the Sloan School of Management and a labor economist who pioneered the study of sexual and racial discrimination in the workplace, died during the weekend of natural causes at her apartment in Boston. She was 69.
Professor Wallace spearheaded, through her scholarship, a precedent-setting legal decision in a federal case that reversed sex and race discrimination in American industry. She directed studies for a federal lawsuit against American Telephone and Telegraph Co., then the largest private employer in the United States. The suit led to a 1973 decision that the company had discriminated against women and minority men. The company agreed to pay millions in back wages and to make other pay adjustments. The verdict also brought about changes in transfer and promotion policies and recruitment criteria.
The case, which Professor Wallace wrote about in her book, Equal Employment Opportunity and the AT&T Case (MIT Press, 1976), was an extension of her own life, background and interests. She continued to work in these areas after her retirement and only recently had agreed to spend the next six months helping Sloan School Dean Lester C. Thurow improve the school's response to sexual harassment problems. She also had begun work on encouraging minorities in the participation of activities at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
In a letter to the Sloan faculty on her death, Dean Thurow said that, as a labor economist, Professor Wallace "widened all our knowledge." Her study of Sloan School women graduates "made everyone wiser about the issues of women attempting to advance in the business world," he said.
Professor Wallace was born in Baltimore, MD. She received a BA degree in 1943 from New York University, an MA from Yale in 1944 and her PhD from Yale in 1948.
After receiving her PhD, she joined the National Bureau of Economic Research as an economist/statistician, while also teaching part-time at the College of the City of New York.
She served on the faculty of Atlanta University from 1953 to 1957, when she became a senior economist for the US government specializing in Soviet economic studies. She was chief of technical studies at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Office of Research from 1966 to 1969 and vice president of research for the Metropolitan Applied Research Center from 1969 to 1972.
After serving as a visiting professor at the Sloan School, in 1975 she became the first woman to hold the rank of professor at the school.
When Mount Holyoke College conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Professor Wallace in 1983, the citation said that as an educator, public servant and scholar "your career has taken you from the university to government to the corporate boardroom."
It continued: "Beginning your career at a time when neither blacks nor women had a fair chance, you have seen great progress toward equal employment opportunity-progress due in no small measure to your scholarship on the economics of discrimination in the labor market."
When she retired in 1986, scholars in industrial and labor relations and economics from around the world gathered at MIT for a conference in her honor. In addition, the Sloan School endowed the Phyllis A. Wallace Doctoral Fellows Fund, which provides support for blacks admitted to the school's doctoral program, and the Phyllis A. Wallace Visiting Scholars Fund to provide support for black visiting scholars at the school.
In addition to her many awards and honors, she served on numerous national advisory committees and corporate boards.
Her books included Women, Minorities and Employment Discrimination (1977), Pathways to Work: Employment Among Black Teenage Females (1974), and Black Women in the Labor Force (1980).
Survivors include her mother, Stevella Wallace; a brother, Samuel Wallace; three sisters, Lydia Mills, Ophelia Wallace and Margaret Campbell; and a niece, Carolyn Mills. All reside in Baltimore.
Funeral services will be held Friday, January 15, at 7:30pm in Metropolitan United Methodist Church, Baltimore, MD. Burial will take place Saturday. Contributions can be made in her memory to the Friends of the Nubian Art Gallery of the Boston Buseum of Fine Arts.
A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 18).