Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty for Netflix
A warrior for truth
Gloria Allred has been a vital part of the fight for women’s rights in the USA for decades, and is known as one of the foremost feminist lawyers in the world today. Her impressive career has spanned from the late 1970s and the lawsuit against the Sav-On Drugstore chain to stop the store from designating separate sections for boys’ and girls’ toys, to her representation of Nicole Brown’s family during the O.J. Simpson trial in the 1990s, to cases against powerful men such as Bill Cosby, Roy Moore and President Trump today. Allred has been a spearhead for the #metoo movement before it even was a movement – holding men accountable for violence and sexual assault of women through the legal system. The Doyennes were lucky enough to have a few words with Ms. Allred at the Allred, Maroko & Goldberg law offices in Los Angeles, before she was off to the Bill Cosby trial the following day:
You’re currently working on the case against Bill Cosby, representing the 33 women accusing him of sexual assault. Could you tell us about the case and how you work?
- I do represent 33 accusers of Bill Cosby; however, I only represent one of them in a civil law suit against him. That lawsuit, which is filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, is on behalf of Judy Huth. She alleges in her lawsuit that she became a victim of child sexual assault by Mr. Cosby when she was 15 years old, at the Playboy Mansion in Southern California. The civil case is awaiting the conclusion of the criminal case against Mr. Cosby, where he’s charged with aggravated indecent sexual assault of Andrea Constand. I don’t represent her, and she is the alleged victim in the case – but I do represent three accusers of Mr. Cosby who may be called to testify at the trial. In the criminal case, they are called prior bad act witnesses, and the court has allowed the prosecution to call five prior bad act witnesses. I represent three of the five the prosecution has chosen to call.
Ms. Allred’s resume is full of other high profile cases, and when asked if there is any one case that has had a particular impact on her or changed her outlook in any way, she replies:
- I think every case. My most important case is my last case, my present case and my next case – all of my cases! If they’re important to my clients, they’re important to me.
Talking with Allred, you immediately get the sense that this comes from the heart. She comes off as just as confident as you’d imagine one of the world’s top lawyers to be, but also as incredibly authentic - fighting for women’s rights isn’t just her job, but part of who she is. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in February this year, she stated: “There's nothing stopping me until I win justice and then I'll stop, OK? Until that day, I'll keep on keeping on, because that's my duty. That's what I owe to women." With decades of experience working with the law in hand for equal rights, we ask her:
Trailer from the Netflix produced documentry "Seeing Allred".
What is the biggest challenge to equality today?
- Well, in the United States, we have still not won the passage of the equal rights amendment to the constitution. The equal rights amendment simply states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state, on account of sex. It was first proposed in 1923, and we have still not won passage of it. We need 38 states to ratify that amendment to the United States constitution. To date, only 36 have ratified, so we need two more. There was a deadline, but we would like Congress to lift the deadline, which has already passed. That amendment would be a significant legal guarantee of equal protection and equal rights under the law for women. We need that passed.
There’s still a long way to go for women in this country. Many women are still being sexually harassed on the job, which interferes with their right to enjoy equal employment opportunity. Many women in the United States are still victims of gender violence such as rape and sexual assault. Women still earn less than men, as a group, for the same or similar work, so there’s still economic discrimination. Discrimination in the sports world, discrimination in the entertainment world, in the business world, in the education world, in the religious world – in fact, in each and every aspect of life; including in the family structure. So we still have a long way to go.
“The personal is political,” is a well-known feminist expression, and this becomes very clear in cases where the government tries to restrict women’s ownership of their bodies, such as when restricting funding and access to safe abortions and even trying to make it illegal again by law. How can we, as citizens, work to prevent this?
- I do think that women’s voices need to be heard in many ways, for example by speaking out on the Internet against changes that we believe restrict our rights and our choices, by holding protests such as the Women’s March and by doing what a famous labor organizer named Mother Jones said: “don’t agonize, organize!”
In addition, women should consider running for office to become elected officials themselves, or support others who are running who share their values and concerns. I think those are some steps that can be taken and that should be taken, and then of course, there’s always the possible lawsuits - to seek relief and remedies from the court if the regulations and/or laws that are passed could be challenged as unconstitutional.
Friars club was founded in 1904. Gloria Allred was the first women to join, 84 years later, in 1988. She sued the club to join.
The many cases against powerful men, including Harvey Weinstein, made the #metoo movement go global. How can the new generation of feminists, both male and female, drive the movement forward and create lasting change?
- So many women, and some men, have shared their truths about sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault under #metoo. So now, there’s not only a national conversation, there’s an international conversation about that, and I think that has caused a shift in public opinion where many more women are being believed than was true previously. But I still ask the question: how many women does it take to say that they were abused, before even one woman is believed - against the denial of a rich, powerful, famous man?
“How many women does it take to say that they were abused, before even one woman is believed – against the denial of a rich, powerful, famous man?”
That, in fact, is going to be one of the key questions in the Bill Cosby criminal trial. Because when these other accusers testify, the question is: will the jury believe that Mr. Cosby thought that Andrea Constand consented to be drugged and assaulted? If it was just her word against his, I think the jury might not find that he was guilty. If five other women testify, and allege that they were also drugged - and some that they were sexually assaulted - how many women will it take before one woman, Andrea Constand, is believed? Or will she not be believed? Will the other women also not be believed? We don’t know the answer to that question. This is the highest profile criminal case to take place since the #metoo movement, and we don’t know what impact this will have on the jury. We do know that many members of the jury were asked about the #metoo movement in questioning to determine if both sides would accept them as jurors. We don’t know what is going to happen, it will be interesting.
Gloria Allred with Hillary Clinton – she supported the Clinton presidential campaign in 2016 and was a delegate for Clinton at the democratic national convention in Philadelphia.
Some people have criticized that you take on high profile cases, but in light of the recent scandals involving famous men in Hollywood, we see that media attention can be an asset, because it might lead to more people coming forward with their stories. Has the media been an asset to you in that way?
- I think sometimes, yes, the media can be an asset. For example, many women who alleged that they were victims of Harvey Weinstein did not know or had reason to know, that he did to others what they alleged he did to them. When they learn that, they become very, very angry, and realize that they were not alone. Then they reach out and want to know what their rights are and what their legal options are, so they contact me. That’s good, because knowledge is power, and I think it’s important that they know what their legal rights are, what options they have, and what the benefits and risks of these options are.
Gloria Allred is a long-time supporter of gay rights and marriage equality.
“I felt that I had a duty to help others, that I had the opportunity to help others, that I had the desire to help others - and so that was the only moral choice I could make.”
Lastly, what made you become a lawyer and what motivates you in your work?
- To become a lawyer, well… I felt that I had a duty to help others, that I had the opportunity to help others, that I had the desire to help others - and so that was the only moral choice I could make.
Originally, I was a teacher and a credential high school principal. I thought maybe I could help improve conditions in the schools, because I had also been a teacher’s association staff person and organizer - but after law school, I decided I wanted to form a law practice that would deal heavily with women’s rights and civil rights.
My parents only had an 8th grade education and never had very much economically, so I do feel privileged to have become a lawyer, and that gives me an obligation to help empower others, and that’s what we do: Allred, Maroko & Goldberg is the leading women’s rights law firm in the country. I believe we should work to empower women to know their rights, to assert their rights, to protect their rights and to vindicate their rights. I have a passion for justice.
All photos courtesy of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg