Gloria Allred, Bob Filner’s nemesis
She sent San Diego’s departing Mayor Bob Filner some resignation “gifts” last week, among them a mirror, so he could see who was to blame for his downfall. This sort of made-for-TV event has been S.O.P. for lawyer Gloria Allred for more than 30 years. She’s battled the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump and California’s same-sex marriage ban. She’s extended her brand with radio and TV shows and a book. She’s lionized in the LGBT world for her intensity and ferocity, the same qualities that have made her name an eye-roller among those who aren’t admirers. Ask her if she cares.
When you took on Irene McCormack Jackson as a client and filed a lawsuit accusing Filner of sexually harassing her, did you have any sense it would become so huge?
No. When Irene filed the lawsuit and we did the news conference, that inspired, encouraged, empowered other women to feel they could also come forward. Had he not resigned, I think more women would have come forward. I had no idea there were as many as there were.
Filner said Friday he deplored the “hysteria of the lynch mob” that forced him out.
He also talked about how proud he was of protecting seals. If he had spent as much time protecting women from sexual harassment by him as he did protecting seals, he would probably still be mayor. But unfortunately he didn’t.
What do you make of his statement that he “never sexually harassed anyone”?
After he appeared to apologize for offending women. It was really unclear what he was apologizing for if he hadn’t sexually harassed them. This is still in litigation. We think we have a strong case.
Should he have had to resign without the allegations having been proved in court?
He wasn’t required to resign. He chose to resign.
Do you bring personal experience of sexual harassment to this?
Definitely, I have been the victim of many of the injustices that women who are my clients have had. That is how I understand how this is impacting their lives economically, psychologically, often physically. It’s all personal. For me, if one woman is denied her rights, we’re all being denied our rights. The Equal Opportunity Enforcement Commission is absolutely understaffed. We are like private attorneys general, enforcing those rights.
You have had cases that made precedent.
Deborah Thorne vs. El Segundo — she applied to be a police officer and was denied. A male who had had an affair suffered no repercussions on account of the affair. She was asked about her private sex life, her menstrual flow, do you use contraceptives. The court of appeal found those questions violated her rights. That was a precedent.
In the Papa Choux case [in 1983, against an L.A. restaurant that refused to seat a lesbian couple in a romantic couples-only area], most people could not remember having heard self-identified lesbian life partners on television before. It’s important not to be afraid of being stigmatized. I see these as teaching moments, as calls to action for individuals who might have been living in fear to break out of that fear.
The rap on you is that you litigate by press conference.
That may be the rap, but we have litigated cases — for example, the marriage-equality case [Allred filed suit in California in 2004 on behalf of a lesbian couple denied a marriage license in L.A. County]. We only do a press conference in about 1% or 2% of all of our cases. There has to be an agreement between the client and myself that it’s in the client’s best interest, given the goals of their particular case, and other goals: Is it of public interest? Is it of public importance? Will it help them to achieve their outcome? We do not believe women and minorities should suffer in silence.
The system is not built or staffed to have every case go to trial. Many cases will settle early on, sometimes within a day. Sometimes it takes years. In the last 10 years alone, we’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients. They come to us as victims, become survivors and then fighters for change. My clients are like the Rosa Parkses of the movement for equality.
You’ve had cases settle in one day?
Actually, it was a few hours. A California corrections officer was not permitted to wear his uniform in the [West Hollywood] gay and lesbian pride parade. I said I was going to hold a news conference, and within a matter of hours, the state changed its policy.
Donald Trump, that was similar. A client had been excluded from the Miss Universe Canada competition because she was transgender. Within hours of [announcing] a press conference, Trump permitted her to reenter the competition. He said he was going to do it anyway; everyone can draw their own conclusions.
Filner was San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in decades, and many of his supporters were minorities and labor groups in a GOP-dominated city. Years ago, pro-choice GOP Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood resigned after serious allegations of sexual misconduct. There was some soul-searching then about private conduct versus public politics.
We are not going to sacrifice women in order to have a progressive mayor or senator, an elected official who has such contempt for women’s rights. That was not a close call for me. I heard Rush Limbaugh talking about how feminists had not criticized Filner, and he said, “And Gloria Allred is doing nothing.” I wrote an open letter [pointing out the lawsuit]. Limbaugh actually responded on the air, something to the effect of, “Well, Gloria Allred did something, but it was perfunctory”!
You’re a lightning rod: the right wing hates you, the left wing lionizes you.
I’m not sure the lines are as clear as that! I’ve had right-wing women who’ve come to me and said: “I’m so sorry I ever criticized you because I need you now. I never in a million years thought I’d be in the situation I’m in.” I say: “Now you understand. Of course I’m going to help you if I can.”
You must have a thick skin.
A suffragist once said something like women who are not willing to risk the displeasure of men will never achieve anything for women’s rights. If you’re afraid of being criticized, then you don’t belong in the civil rights battle. As suffragists were marching down the street with signs about equal rights, cigars were burned into their rear ends. Husbands left their wives because of it. In England, [hunger-striking] women were force-fed. There is no change without sacrifice. Words will never deter me. If they had a good argument, they would make it, not resort to name-calling.
What about the parody of you on “The Simpsons”?
It’s like “Gone With the Wind”: Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn. I don’t think about it, unless maybe one of my grandchildren will say, “Grandma, you were on ‘The Simpsons,’” and they’re laughing.
Aren’t things better for women now?
I live in a war zone. I would never have imagined 37 years ago when I started practicing law that there would still be so much discrimination against women, so much denial of women’s rights.
I’ve had conservatives say to me, look how far women have come, but as a progressive person, I say look at how far we have to go. We still have not won passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. We still do not have equal representation in Congress. We still do not have a woman president. We [in California] have never had a woman governor. And the number of women CEOs —
There’s Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg at the top of the tech heap.
Decades ago, Gov. [Jerry] Brown said to me, “Why do you criticize me for not appointing enough women judges?” Then he named some he had appointed. And I said: “Governor, you can’t name all of the male judges you’ve appointed. When you can’t name all of the women judges you’ve appointed, then you will have appointed enough.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. Twitter: @pattmlatimes
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