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Patt Morrison Asks

Gloria Allred, Bob Filner's nemesis

This time, she took on San Diego's mayor. For more than 30 years, she's been lionized for her intensity and ferocity, though not everyone's an admirer. Ask her if she cares.

September 03, 2013|Patt Morrison
  • Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in her office with a book about women's suffrage by Midge Mackenzie.
Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred in her office with a book about women's… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

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.

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