Originally from Memphis, Sanders’s parents were a Methodist minister and a schoolteacher who became a librarian. By the time she entered Fisk University as a freshman, she had lived in several towns in Tennessee and in Arkansas, including Lebanon and Nashville. She followed her bachelor’s degree at Fisk with a master’s from the University of Chicago and returned to Nashville to teach history full time at Tennessee State University in 1966–67. She then entered Vanderbilt Law School while continuing to teach part time at TSU.
In 1968 Sanders and four other plaintiffs (Ernest Tarrell, Patrick Gilpin, Harold Sweatt, and Phillip Sweatt) filed a lawsuit against the State of Tennessee requesting that the dual system of higher education be dismantled. In 2006 the consent decree, which followed the lawsuit, was dismissed. Sanders married fellow Vanderbilt law student Paul Geier, and the couple had two children. She was admitted to the bar in Tennessee and the District of Columbia and to practice in a variety of federal courts. She moved to the Washington area and served as a regional director for the Legal Service Corporation. In 1979 she joined the Department of Justice. She served as general counsel for the Appalachian Regional Commission. She went to the Social Security Administration in 1992 as deputy associate commissioner for hearings and appeals and subsequently became associate commissioner. In 2001 she became executive counselor on interagency adjudication. She served as principal adviser in such areas as Medicare appeals and identity theft.
She retired from the Social Security Administration and in September 2007 joined the staff of UT as associate to the chancellor and senior fellow in the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. She retired from UT in 2011.