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Civil rights attorney Mary Dunlap, a longtime advocate for women and the lesbian and gay community, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. She was 54. For the past six years, Dunlap served as director of San Francisco’s Office of Citizen Complaints, a watchdog agency charged with investigating and prosecuting police misconduct. Prior to that, Dunlap spent 20 years as a civil rights attorney and law professor. She co-founded Equal Rights Advocates Inc. in 1974 to promote equal opportunities for women. She fought several historic battles, twice going to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the first case, she represented pregnant schoolteachers who sued the Richmond School District over its requirement that they take maternity leave once they begin to “show” their pregnancy. The Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that the requirement was unconstitutional. A decade later, Dunlap defended the Gay Olympics in a trademark infringement suit brought by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 against her client. “Mary is one of the great unsung heroes of the city and nation,” said Shawn Kelly, an investigator with the San Francisco city attorney’s office. “What people most love about her is her sense of humor and unwavering enthusiasm for what she was doing and her belief that justice was possible,” said Irma Herrera, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. “Justice has lost one of its truest and most forceful champions,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “All of us in San Francisco will miss her.” Dunlap litigated several high-profile cases, including a suit against the San Francisco Fire Department for its hiring practices. She won a consent decree that forced the fire department to admit women and minorities. In the early 1980s, Dunlap also won a San Francisco district court order that struck down the Immigration & Naturalization Service’s ban on gay and lesbian people entering the country. She represented a gay man from Great Britain who had come to San Francisco to attend the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade. She also won an employment discrimination suit for law professor Eleanor Swift, who sued Boalt Hall School of Law claiming she was denied tenure because of her gender. Maureen Mason, Dunlap’s partner of 18 years, said Dunlap founded the first sexual orientation classes at Stanford University and Michigan Law School. A graduate of Boalt Hall, Dunlap taught at several law schools during her career, including the University of Texas at Austin and Hastings College of the Law. Dunlap is survived by Mason and a sister, Helen Dunlap.

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