PARK CITY, Utah — This will teach you a lesson.
Those six words lit a fire under Gloria Allred, the renowned women’s rights attorney, that burns brightly to this day.
To understand Allred—her motivations, her fears, her single-minded pursuit of justice—you have to know her story. It’s an eye-opener, and one that few of her (mostly) male detractors, who have taken to dismissively branding her an “ambulance chaser” or “media whore,” have even scratched the surface of.
“I’m all about empowerment,” she says. “Words will never stop me.”
In the mid-‘60s, Allred split from her husband after his bipolar disorder began posing a threat to their child’s well-being. A single mother, she moved with her young daughter, Lisa, from Philadelphia to sunny California. Shortly thereafter, and needing to blow off some steam, she took a trip with one of her girlfriends to Acapulco. There, she met a striking physician who was to take her out for a night on the town—but first, he said, he had to make some house calls. He guided Allred into a house, only no one was home. The man brandished a gun. Then he raped her.
It gets worse. The attack left her pregnant, and it being the 1960s, a safe, legal abortion wasn’t an option. So Allred was forced into a back-alley abortion. She went alone. The procedure left her hemorrhaging, and, losing considerable blood, she checked herself into the hospital, where she was placed in a ward with numerous other women who’d received the same procedure. Many of them didn’t make it. As Allred lay in recovery, the nurse tending to her looked her dead in the eye and said, “This will teach you a lesson.”
Allred has, in the decades since, became not just a champion for women, but for minorities, too. She’s taken on the Catholic Church, the Friars Club, the TSA, you name it. In 1995, she became a household name after representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson during O.J.’s murder trial; in 2004, she filed the first lawsuit to challenge the same-sex marriage laws in California, on behalf of her longtime pals Robin Taylor and Diane Olson. (The California Supreme Court ruled in their favor, setting an important legal precedent in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage.)
And at 76, she shows no signs of slowing down. In recent years, Allred, who’s been dubbed the “master of the press conference,” has garnered headlines for representing 33 of Bill Cosby’s sexual-assault accusers; several women accusing the director Roman Polanski, film executive Harvey Weinstein, and politician Roy Moore of sexual-assault; and three women who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual-assault. She’s currently representing The Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos in a defamation suit against President Trump, after he called her a liar for claiming to have been assaulted by him at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007—the same hotel where he allegedly rendezvoused with porn star Stormy Daniels.
Oh, and if that weren’t enough, she’s the subject of an inspiring new documentary Seeing Allred, that debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will be out Feb. 9 on Netflix. The film, directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain, chronicles Allred’s journey from working-class Philly to celebrity attorney.
I sat down with Allred at Sundance to discuss the doc and her storied career.
It’s interesting that this documentary is premiering at Sundance, because this is the place where Rose McGowan alleges that Harvey Weinstein raped her.
I represent numerous persons who allege they are victims of Harvey Weinstein, and some of them allege that they were the victims of inappropriate conduct here as well. At Sundance. But I can’t discuss them further.
The McGowan episode is said to have happened in 1997. It’s 21 years later. One of the major fest themes this year is courageous women, with documentaries on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Fonda, and yourself, and the Respect Rally that you spoke at. There seems to have been a seismic shift both at this festival and beyond with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements—it seems to have a lot to do with the election of President Trump?
I think this wave has been building for many years. Women have been speaking out long before the #MeToo movement—although that’s been important—and many of them have been speaking out with me because they want their voices to be heard, and because they demand change. But I think the wave has become a tsunami, and we’re never going to be the same again. We’re not going to be silent anymore, because the cost of silence, they have assessed, is greater than the cost of speaking out. It’s really harmed them emotionally in many cases, it’s harmed them economically, and in some cases they allege they’ve been harmed physically as a result of trying to keep all that rage and anger about what they’ve been forced to suffer within them. So I encourage them not to tranquilize themselves out of their anger and their rage but to take that as a source of energy and have it help them move forward in a positive, constructive way. It may be too late for them to sue or too late for law enforcement to assist them in any way, but it’s not too late for them to speak out, to demand legislative changes, to run for office, and to fight for change.
But the election of Trump seems to be the thing that lit the fuse, no? When you elevate a man to the highest office in the land who’s been accused of sexual-assault by 19 women, and who’s on tape bragging about assaulting women—and who’s said very ugly things to you, when he said you’d be “very very impressed” with his manhood...
Yeah, well, you might notice who prevailed in that battle. We demanded that [trans contestant Jenna Talackova] be put back in the beauty pageant and to remove the rule that you have to be a naturally-born female, and he did put her back and he did remove the rule, and of course ultimately said he was going to do that anyway.
And I mean…a year or two later, after we won that battle, I happened to see him at Fox News in the green room. He was on a show before I was. I was sitting there with another client and about to come on a show, and he comes in, and I thought, oh my goodness, what’s he going to say to my client? So he says, “Oh, Gloria. I heard you were here.” He turns to my client and says, “Miss so-and-so, I just want you to know: you have the best lawyer. This woman is relentless. She will never stop until she wins you the justice you think you deserve, so never, ever fire her because you will never get anyone better.” I was astounded, given that we’d just won that battle. And I’ve never seen him since.
What’s the status of the fundraising for Summer Zervos’ defamation suit against President Trump? I’d read that you were at $30,000 in donations at the beginning of this month.
Well, we’re actually not engaged in fundraising. What we have done is we’ve put on our webpage that if people want to contribute, they can. But we’ve done no fundraising activities, mailers or any of that. So many people have asked us if they can donate, and where they can donate, and we certainly welcome it because the costs of litigating a case—forget the fees, I’m not charging for my fees—against the President of the United States and his billionaire friends, some of whom may or may not be contributing to him, this is a huge endeavor. We need the support of the public, if they wish to provide it, but I’m not going out actively soliciting [donations], because I’m very busy with the cases.
What did you think about The New York Times piece late last month? It accused you and your daughter of partisanship—basically, a left-wing conspiracy—in receiving donations from prominent Democratic allies, like David Brock, in pursuing lawsuits against Trump.
I remember the piece you’re talking about. It mixed up a lot of things that really weren’t related. Let me be clear: David Brock hasn’t contributed one cent to us.
That money went to your daughter, Lisa Bloom.
Well, I don’t know what she’s received or what she hasn’t received, but not one cent went to me or any of my clients. And that’s all I can say.
How confident are you that Summer Zervos’ defamation case against Trump will go forward, and that you’ll be able to depose the President of the United States?
We’re waiting for the court’s decision. I’ll say that I am hopeful, but there are very complicated legal issues involved. We’ve made our arguments, he’s made his motion to dismiss the arguments, we’ve made our arguments in opposition, they’ve replied, and now we’re waiting to see what the court will do. The judge appears to be a very bright judge who asked the right questions from both sides. It’s going to be a battle.
Trump’s defense is interesting here. His team is arguing that what Trump says is protected by the First Amendment, and that the statements he makes at rallies to rouse people don’t have to be entirely truthful.
I’m glad you mentioned what you just said, because the reason we filed this lawsuit is because we believe the truth matters. That’s the reason. We believe truth matters, and we believe that if a person believes—or has reason to believe—that they were defamed, they should have a right to pursue the person that defamed them.
Has President Trump—or any of his intermediaries—settled or attempted to settle with any of your clients?
Not to my knowledge.
What are your thoughts on Stormy Daniels’ reported $130,000 settlement with Trump? The whole situation is interesting, because Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is alleged to have created a company in order to transfer the settlement funds surreptitiously.
I’ll just say that I did not represent her in any settlement, and therefore I have no comment if there was a settlement. But it’s definitely…an interesting issue. But I will say, with the film, I hope that people who see Seeing Allred understand that they can take on in their own lives people who are powerful that have hurt them. Whether these people are celebrities in the political world, the entertainment world, the sports world, the education world, they religious world, they can take this as a teaching moment and say, wait, I can stand up and do something about the injustice that has been inflicted upon me by this powerful person. That, for me, is what it’s all about.
I wanted to ask about your daughter, Lisa Bloom. There’s a very brief scene in the film that mentions how she worked for accused predators Harvey Weinstein and Roy Price, and it was later revealed how she provided opposition research in response to Ronan Farrow’s queries in an attempt to smear Weinstein’s alleged victims. What are your thoughts on her decision?
It seemed, at least to me, like she got blinded a bit by the Hollywood element. Harvey Weinstein was opting her book for a potential film or television project. A similar thing happened with Hillary Clinton, who was developing a project with Weinstein up until the sexual-assault allegations surfaced.
My daughter has her own law firm. She decides who she’s taking on as clients and who she’s not. I have nothing to do with those decisions, and she doesn’t decide who I take as clients or don’t take as clients. So all I can say is I love her, I support her—she’s a wonderful lawyer—and I have no comment on that other than to say I’m proud of my daughter, and she’s doing what she can to help victims.
Once you learn the full breadth of your story, it seems extra insidious when you see powerful men—and it is mainly men—criticizing you, a person who’s been assaulted, for primarily defending women who have been assaulted, harassed or discriminated against by men.
I will say that I do want to give credit and recognition to many men who come up to me and say, “I have daughters. Thank you. I know you’re waging this fight for my daughters.” I do think that many men who care about their daughters understand that, but look, it’s about education. There’s always going to be some individuals who are not well informed, who want women to be subordinated, who want women to be denied their rights, and who want women to live as second-class citizens. But I’m about real change. I’m about empowering persons who are victims and minorities who are denied their rights, so I just think of the brave suffragists before me who fought in the United States for 72 years just to win the right to vote. I know what herstory is. What they went through was far more of an act of courage than what I’ve been engaging in for 42 years, and they were not deterred by being called names or being accused of falsehoods. That doesn’t deter me, either.