Dean Brenner Johnson’s research sits at the complex intersection of law and gender, focusing specifically on institutions and disparate power dynamics. Her research falls into two distinct areas: gender-based violence and gender inequality in the legal profession.
She studies the perpetration of sexual violence, and the related reporting, investigation, and adjudication, in closed and quasi-closed institutional settings like prisons, the military, immigration detention centers, and institutions of higher education. Her initial interest in researching these systems stems from her involvement as a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant that explored the reporting of sexual violence by women in prison. Her current work explores sexual violence that is perpetrated in quasi-closed institutional systems: “A Title IX Conundrum: Are Campus Visitors Protected From Sexual Assault” was recently published by the Iowa Law Review.
Dean Brenner Johnson also researches gender inequality in the legal profession. Her early work in this area considered, empirically, the ways in which the media portrays nominees to the United States Supreme Court through a gendered lens. Her co-authored article that emerged from this research, “Rethinking Gender Equality in the Legal Profession's Pipeline to Power: A Study on Media Coverage of Supreme Court Nominees," was selected as a winner of the 2012 AALS New Voices in Gender paper competition. A subsequent peer-reviewed essay, "Expanding the Pathways to Gender Equality in the Legal Profession," published in Legal Ethics, calls for innovative solutions to the rampant inequality that continues to plague women lawyers. More recently she has been engaged in research surrounding the stories of women who were shortlisted, but never nominated, to the United States Supreme Court. Her book on this subject, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court was published by New York University Press in May 2020. She is also the co-author of new casebook, Gender, Power, Law & Leadership (West Academic 2019).
Her work has been cited by the Delaware Supreme Court, in briefs before the United States Circuit Courts, by numerous law journals as well as in popular media like CNN, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Detroit Free Press.
Dean Brenner Johnson teaches across the curriculum and her courses intersect with her research interests. Her courses include Torts I, Gender, Power, Law & Leadership, and the Clinical Externship Seminar.
Before joining the faculty at California Western, Dean Brenner Johnson was lecturer in law, director of externship programs, and co-director of the Frank J. Kelley Institute of Ethics and the Legal Profession at Michigan State University College of Law, where she was also a core faculty member of the Center for Gender in the Global Context and a member of the Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence. Dean Brenner Johnson also served as the first executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law.