Gloria Allred, born July 3, 1941, in Philadelphia, is a flamboyant, widely recognized lawyer, feminist, activist, and radio talk show host. Though her critics dismiss her as a publicity monger and a dilettante, Allred has received praise from others who believe that she is a master at using the power of the news media to draw attention to the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people.
Born Gloria Rachel Bloom, Allred grew up in Philadelphia with her parents, Morris Bloom, a door-to-door salesman, and Stella Davidson Bloom, a homemaker. Her conventional middle-class childhood gave no hint of the outspoken activist to come. Allred graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in English. She moved to New York to pursue a master's degree in teaching at New York University. While there, she became interested in the Civil Rights Movement, which was beginning to gain momentum. After earning her master's degree in 1966, she returned to Philadelphia to teach at a high school with a predominantly black enrollment.
Allred says her interest in the struggle for equal rights arose from personal experiences. While she was in college, she married, gave birth to a daughter, and divorced. Unable to collect Child Support from her former husband, she was forced to return to her parents' home. She also recalls being paid less than a man for what she considered equal work. The reason given was that the man had a family to support, but at the time, Allred as the single mother also had a dependent to support. Perhaps the experience that most galvanized her commitment to equal rights was being raped and then having to undergo an Abortion at a time when the operation could not legally be performed by a doctor. She nearly died after the operation. According to Allred, the experience made her realize the need for safe and legal abortions and precipitated her lifelong commitment to the fight for reproductive freedom.
"There are enough high hurdles to climb, as one travels through life, without having to scale artificial barriers created by law or silly regulations."
Allred moved to Los Angeles and married again in 1968, this time to Raymond Allred; they were divorced in 1987. Allred taught in the turbulent Watts section of Los Angeles and became the first full-time female staff member in United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union representing Los Angeles's teachers. The experience stirred her interest in Civil Rights and Collective Bargaining and prompted her to go to law school. She received her law degree, with honors, from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Law School in 1974. Soon after, she entered a law firm partnership with her classmates Nathan Goldberg and Michael Maroko. Allred, Maroko, Goldberg, and Ribakoff grew during the 1970s and 1980s into a thirteen-lawyer firm with annual revenues exceeding $2.5 million. The firm's caseload has ranged from family and Constitutional Law to business litigation and personal injury suits.
Allred has been perhaps the most flamboyant and well known member of her firm. She has achieved notoriety and name recognition through staged press conferences and demonstrations publicizing and dramatizing the causes she has championed at various times. She has also accepted controversial cases that naturally attract media attention. During her years in practice, she has successfully sued Los Angeles County to stop the practice of shackling and chaining pregnant inmates during labor and delivery; put a halt on the practice by the city of El Segundo of quizzing job applicants about their sexual histories (Thorne v. City of El Segundo, 802 F.2d 1131 [9th Cir. 1986]); represented a client who was turned down for a job as a police officer after a six-hour lie detector exam that included questions about her sex life; and sued a dry cleaning establishment for discrimination because it charged more to launder women's shirts than men's. Allred also successfully sued on behalf of two lesbians who had been denied entrance to the "romance booth" at a Los Angeles restaurant (Rolon v. Kulwitsky, 153 Cal. App. 3d 289, 200 Cal. Rptr. 217 [Cal. App. 2 Dist. 1984]). The owner of the restaurant vowed to close the booth if Allred's clients won. They did, and he made good on his promise.
Allred relishes confrontation, and her showy tactics have earned her both praise and criticism. Defending what many have called self-promoting publicity stunts, Allred says she is aware of the impression she makes and contends that it is exactly the effect she wants. She tries to use the few moments she is in the spotlight to make her point as forcefully as possible. Her detractors say that she wastes her time and energy on trivial issues that do not advance any worthwhile cause and deflect attention away from serious issues. Yet, she points out, she is often stopped on the street by people who recognize her and want to thank her for taking on the small fights that no one else wants. Allred contends that what she is really doing is tackling issues that are symbolic of the day-to-day struggles people face. It is her way of educating the public and the legal establishment to move beyond stereotypes.
Asked whether she is an activist or a lawyer, Allred replied that she is an "activist lawyer." She added that she believes in seeking change and winning rights through the legal process but that she does not shrink from utilizing the political process when legal remedies prove inadequate. She once held a press conference in the office of California governor Jerry Brown to cast media attention on his threat to Veto a bill authorizing payroll deductions for child support payments. When the news media arrived, Allred and a group of women and children had hung diapers across the governor's office. Brown reversed his position and signed the bill. In another case that drew media attention, Allred held a press conference at the door of the allmale Friars Club of New York to dramatize her lawsuit challenging the club's policy of not allowing women members and not allowing women to enter, even as guests, before 4:00 p.m. She won her suit on the grounds that the club did not meet the "substantially private" requirement under New York law that would have allowed it to legally exclude women. Possibly her most famous politically motivated demonstration was presenting California state senator John Schmitz (R-Corona del Mar) with a chastity belt at a hearing on a bill to limit abortion and Birth Control. Schmitz retaliated in a press release in which he called Allred "a slick butch lawyeress." Allred sued for libel and won a damage award and an apology.
Allred has earned a reputation as a champion of those who have been sexually victimized. She represented a woman who won a $5 million civil suit against an accused rapist the district attorney declined to prosecute; represented a boy who claimed to have been sexually abused by a famous rock singer (although she abruptly and without explanation withdrew from the case before it was settled); and tackled the thorny issue of clergy Sexual Abuse. She says she wants people to know that, even if the criminal justice system fails them, they are entitled to file a civil suit.
Allred is an ardent feminist who believes that all attorneys and all judges should be feminists, because she feels anyone who is not a feminist is a bigot. Some critics say she is all show and no substance. She has been compared to legal showmen such as Melvin M. Belli ("the King of Torts") and Marvin Mitchelson, who gained notoriety through a series of celebrity palimony suits. However, even Mitchelson, not one to shrink from publicity himself, describes her style as rough. But Allred has many supporters as well. Among them is Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the California Court of Appeal who credits Allred with moving women's issues forward. Klein also points out that Allred saves her dramatics for outside the courtroom and always observes proper decorum while before the bench. According to Klein, Allred is always well-prepared and, for that reason, is quite successful.
In 1994, Allred wrote an editorial for the December 6 issue of the Los Angeles Times, titled "Prosecution or Persecution," in which she asserted that laws prohibiting prostitution are sexist and victimize women. She advocated legalization and regulation of the sex trade in order to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and drug abuse. According to Allred, "Unprotected, uninsured sex workers are the real victims who deserve legal status and an end to government-funded harassment."
In the 1990s, Allred, whose law firm partners were both the children of Holocaust survivors, sued an organization that had promised a monetary award to an Auschwitz survivor for proving the existence of the Holocaust and then reneged on the award. Allred won a six-figure judgment that ultimately bankrupted the organization. In 1995, Allred sued the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) over the organization's refusal to let a girl join the troop to which her twin brother belonged. The trial judge's decision that the BSA was not a business organization and was not subject to the state Civil Rights Act was upheld by the Court of Appeals. The case was appealed to California's Supreme Court, but, when that court upheld two similar cases, the plaintiff withdrew her appeal.
In early 2003, Allred served as president of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization she founded. She hosted her own radio talk show on a Los Angeles radio station and was selected as one of the 25 most important talk show hosts by USA Today. She has also been a columnist for the National Law Journal. She has been nominated three times for television's Emmy award for her commentaries on KABC-TV.Dressed in her trademark reds and electric blues, Allred is a combination of scholarship and theatrics. Her intelligence and shrewd under-standing of the power of the media have made her a contemporary success story in the world of law and politics. Gloria Allred has her own web site: www.gloriaallred.com (accessed May 29,2003).
Berry, Dawn Bradley. 1996. The 50 Most Influential Women in American Law. Los Angeles: Contemporary Books.
Drachman, Virginia G. 1998. Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.
Gloria Allred. Available online at <www.gloriaallred.com> (accessed May 29, 2003).