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Gloria Allred, Civil Rights Lawyer

“I am a constant warrior,” says Allred, whose legal career spans 40 years.

By Tami Kamin Meyer

A familiar scene played out in early March when noted civil lawyer Gloria Allred appeared next to a client on NBC’s The Today Show. That morning, she sat alongside Edwin Meises, the motorcyclist paralyzed last October when an SUV driver ran over him as a throng of motorcyclists surrounded the vehicle.

Allred said she and her client had not yet decided if they will file suit for Meises’s injuries that fateful day. Meanwhile, neither Meises nor the SUV driver have been charged in the mishap. That morning Allred explained, “He never did anything to the driver except basically had his back to the car when he was run over.”

“What we hope is that the prosecutor does not look at public opinion, that the prosecutor looks at the facts, looks at the law, (and) decides whether or not the driver of the SUV who ran over Edwin and paralyzed him for life…was in reasonable fear and had any kind of justification for running over Edwin,” said Allred.

The occasion marked one of Allred’s latest appearances on TV advocating the rights of unpopular victims, undocumented workers and women who suffered discrimination. She has devoted over 38 years as a self-described “fearless lawyer, feminist, activist, television and radio commentator, advocate and winner.”

“I am a constant warrior,” says Allred, who will celebrate her 73rd birthday on July 3

Victims of sexual attacks

She is well aware of naysayers who depict her as a celebrity-chasing, camera-loving opportunist. She denies running to the media for every client. To detractors, she says, “If I think a case involves a matter of public interest and importance and if it helps my client achieve their objective, I speak out.”

A recent high-profile example of Allred’s zealous pursuit of her client’s civil rights involves filing a Title 9 sex discrimination complaint on behalf of seven women at the University of Connecticut (UConn). The university “has failed to abide by the federal law which guarantees students the right to an education free from the violation of their human and civil rights,” she says.

According to Allred, despite being informed about the rapes and sexual attacks, administrators at the University did nothing. Furthermore, Allred charges that the university “failed to keep them (the victims) safe and betrayed them once they reported what happened to them to college administrators.”

In one instance, a former student at UConn alleged she was raped by a classmate in her on-campus dorm. At a hearing, she was told the perpetrator had been found guilty of several charges, including sexual misconduct. As punishment, he was to be expelled immediately. However, several weeks later, when the woman sat in a campus dining hall, she looked up to find the aggressor sitting next to her.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced a formal investigation into the allegations raised in that complaint. The OCR will seek to determine whether the University of Connecticut failed to respond promptly and effectively to the women’s contentions they had been subjected to rape and sexual violence.

Mayor of San Diego

Allred has also represented women who were sexually assaulted by former San Diego mayor Bob Filner. The victims played central roles in his resignation August 30. Partly due to Allred’s efforts to publicize the civil rights violations suffered by her clients, the city of San Diego recently honored one of the victims for speaking out by naming a day in her honor. "This may be the first city in this nation -- maybe even the world -- that has publicly commended a citizen for standing up against sexual harassment. So I commend the city of San Diego for that now- historic act," Allred says.

The San Diego City Council approved a $250,000 payment on Feb. 10, 2014 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by another Allred client, Filner's former communications director. It was the negotiations in that litigation that led Filner to step down after repeated refusals to do so.

In December, Filner pleaded guilty to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery. He was sentenced to three years probation, including three months of home confinement

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely rapper Kanye West is a fan of Gloria Allred. That’s because Allred represents Daniel Ramos, a photographer whom West punched last summer after he photographer asked West a question. The incident, caught on video at Los Angeles International Airport, led to West being charged with criminal battery. Disappointed with the misdemeanor charges, Allred filed a civil suit seeking damages. During an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show last October, West made it clear he think he has the right to attack anyone who antagonizes him. In response, Allred expresses dismay that West behaves as if “paparazzi are fair game.”

In October, West was sentenced to probation and ordered to stand no closer than ten yards of Ramos.

Allred also involves herself in employment discrimination cases. One of her current clients is Teri James, who was fired by San Diego Christian College because she became pregnant, making it obvious that she had engaged in pre-marital sex. A condition of employment at the San Diego school was signing a two-page “community covenant” forbidding sex before marriage. Not only did she lose her job and health insurance during her pregnancy, she alleges she was humiliated in front of her coworkers. In a bizarre twist, the school offered the same job to her infant son’s father (now her husband) despite the fact he had engaged in the same conduct she had.

Gloria Allred is presented with the National Trial Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award by Michelle Swanner, NTL Executive Director.

A humble beginning

Women have played strong roles in Allred’s life. Born Gloria Rachel Bloom on July 3, 1941, into a humble beginning, Allred was raised in Philadelphia by her father, a door-to-door salesman with an eighth-grade education and a British mother who toiled to care for her family. In her book ‘‘Fight Back and Win: My Thirty-Year Fight Against Injustice--and How You Can Win Your Own Battles,” Allred says that the importance of a good education was her mother’s mantra.

Good fortune shined on young Gloria as she was selected to attend the all-academic, all-female Philadelphia High School for Girls. The faculty members instilled confidence and self-worth in its students, encouraging them to tell their future husbands that they, not the man, should be the one attending post-graduate school. In her book, Allred wrote how rebellious that statement was for the times.

Allred excelled in high school and became both a class officer and a cheerleader. She recalls an incident when a boy derided her position as a cheerleader for her school’s female basketball team. “He thought that it was only worthwhile to cheer for boys because girls were of no value or importance. In many ways, I still am a cheerleader for girls, and now for women, too,’” she wrote.

She attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she married, became pregnant and got divorced.  Now a single mother, she applied for a variety of jobs after college, including one at an advertising agency. When she was asked if she could type, she said “no” and was not hired. Allred retrospectively wrote that if she could have typed, she might still be in that job today rather than attending law school. How ironic that that same woman evolved into a self-described techie who owns three PCs. She also carries two laptops with her wherever she goes and is a devotee of both her Blackberry and iPhone.

“I couldn’t type and was the last one in our office to use computers. I resisted a long time but finally gave in and now I’m probably the single most connected person in our office,” she says

While pursuing a master’s degree at New York University, she began teaching African American students at a Philadelphia high school. Allred found that the kids had come from the same poor background as she had. She believed they deserved an education and opportunities that grew from it, just as she had enjoyed, and was determined to give it to them.

Later she moved to teach English in an inner city school in Los Angeles, becoming the first full-time female staff member of the Los Angeles Teachers Association.

A life-changing event

Allred survived a life-altering experience in 1966 that ultimately solidified her decision to become a lawyer and champion women’s rights. She was raped at gunpoint while on vacation in Acapulco. When she returned to the US, she discovered she was pregnant. In those days before Roe vs. Wade, abortion was a crime. She underwent an illegal abortion and almost hemorrhaged to death.

Her own rape fuels the passion with which Allred seeks to restore justice to those who have been victimized. “Being raped in college is the classic example of a woman’s right to an education being interfered with. My personal experience as a rape survivor has an impact on my passion for women’s rights and helping them vindicate their rights. Many women sacrificed a lot for women to have rights and I am one of the lawyers who helps women enforce and assert those rights,” she says.

After marrying her second husband in 1968 (they divorced in 1980), she enrolled in Southwestern University School of Law and later transferred to Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles. She became friendly with two fellow students, Michael Maroko and Nathan Goldberg. The trio got along well and discussed opening a law firm together upon graduation. This past January marked the 38th anniversary of Allred, Maroko and Goldberg.

Today, that law firm employs ten attorneys. “I work nights, holidays and weekends. I love it. We’re very busy. We do more women’s rights cases than any other law firm in the United States,” says Allred.

Honored by the National Trial Lawyers

Her nearly 40-year legal career has garnered Allred several awards and accolades. She has rallied with abortion rights advocates, made countless television appearances on behalf of clients and promoted gay rights on the red carpet at the 2014 Oscars. She was also recently honored by the National Trial Lawyers with the Lifetime Achievement Award. But her exhausting schedule is about helping others, not promoting herself. “It’s not about me,” she says, adding that what brings her joy is when her work results in “positive results for clients. Power has to be met with power and we level the playing field.”

So where does this Type A personality go on vacation? “Anywhere I can access the Internet and telephone,” she responds emphatically. She spends her free time with her family. Her daughter, Lisa Bloom, is an attorney, author and legal correspondent on NBC’s Today Show and lives in New York City. Her grandson is 22 and her granddaughter, 24, is in her second year at Fordham Law School. Allred beams with pride when she reveals that next year, her family will include three generations of female attorneys.

Retirement is not in Allred’s plans. “Every day is an adventure. You never know” what excitement will unfold every day, she says.  Asked where she gets her zest for life, the 72-year-old Allred is unwavering. “I am most proud of my clients who have spoken truth to power. They have fought back. Stood up. Asserted their legal rights and we work to vindicate those rights. We represent the Davids and the Davidas who find the strength and courage to face those who have inflicted injustice on them. I love assisting them become empowered.”

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney who practices in consumer bankruptcy area. She is also Of Counsel to the Consumer Attorneys of America. The author is also a freelance writer whose byline has appeared in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, The Rotarian, Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Super Lawyer and Ohio Lawyers Weekly. She is also a columnist for the websites of Progressive Law Practice and Successful Business News.

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