Deborah Dinner

Professor of Law


Deborah Dinner is a legal historian whose research examines work, gender, capitalism, and the welfare state in the twentieth-century United States. Her scholarship explores the interaction between social movements, legal and economic thought, political culture, and legal change. Her courses and curricular interests include Property, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Family Law, Gender & the Law, Law & Social Movements, and the Legal History of Risk.

Dinner is the author of The Sex Equality Dilemma: Work, Family, and Legal Change in Neoliberal America (Cambridge University Press, Studies in Legal History Series, forthcoming 2022). The book analyzes how sex discrimination law and social welfare policies evolved, from 1964 to 1996, in the context of legal and political debates about the relationship between motherhood and women’s labor-market participation. It explains why sex equality came to mean individual freedom from gender stereotyping, in the absence of robust state supports for familial caregiving. Dinner’s published articles explore feminist legal activism respecting childcare and pregnancy discrimination, gender in public accommodations, masculinity and divorce law, and the relationship between sex discrimination law and retrenchment in labor regulation. These appear in the Yale Law Journal, Virginia Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, and Law and History Review, among other leading journals and edited volumes. She is currently working on a new book project titled A Nation at Risk: Private Insurance and the Law in Modern America. This project investigates the tension between antidiscrimination principles and actuarial logic, through the history of legal disputes about risk classification and social inequity.

Dinner earned her J.D. and Ph.D. in history from Yale. Following law school, she clerked for Judge Karen Nelson Moore of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Prior to joining the faculty at Cornell Law, she served as an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and Emory University School of Law. She was awarded a Program in Law & Public Affairs (LAPA) Fellowship at Princeton University (2020-2021) and an American Council of Learned Societies Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship (Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, 2022-2023), in support of her research on the legal history of insurance.


  •   The Sex Equality Dilemma: Work, Family, and Legal Change in Neoliberal America (forthcoming Cambridge University Press)
  •   “The Care Crisis: Covid-19, Labor Feminism, and Democracy,” in Labor and Democracy (Mark Barenberg & Angela B. Cornell, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2021)
  •   “Sex in Public,” Yale Law Journal 129 (2019) (with Elizabeth Sepper)
  •   “Beyond ‘Best Practices’: Employment Discrimination Law in the Neoliberal Era,” Indiana Law Journal 92 (2017)
  •   “The Divorce Bargain: The Fathers’ Rights Movement and Family Inequalities,” Virginia Law Review 102 (2016)

See all publications on SSRN.