Gloria Allred: A Fighting Spirit

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The women’s rights lawyer’s autobiography leaves me feeling empowered

By Susan Braudy

I’ll stop cracking my knuckles, gentle reader, to tell you how powerful I feel after reading the inspirational page-turner Fight Back and Win by Gloria Allred, the world-changing women’s rights lawyer from California.

Your diarist is no slouch either; she has corrected history about the notorious and violent Kathy Boudin. I also changed history for six years writing and editing Ms. Magazine.

But I don’t hold a candle to Allred. Reading her memoir made me hear the approaching drumbeat of legal matriarchy. I can’t think of another lawyer or judge who’s made a bigger contribution to women’s rights.

There are those who erroneously blame Allred for taking headline cases. But headlines fuel cultural change. Her most recent case is in the defense of Debrahlee Lorenzana, who alleges she was fired from her bank job for being too attractive.

Gloria Allred’s a hero who spent 23 years fighting to force the system to acknowledge its wrongdoing to one woman. Gloria won the plaintiff millions of dollars in damages. I’ll never forget reading the chapter in Fight Back and Win about this client, devout 16-year-old Hispanic teenager Rita Miller, who wanted to become a nun.

Back in the early 1970s, her priest raped her. This was before we had a clue about such atrocities. He wasn’t content to exercise his cruel power alone—he recruited six other priests who raped her, sometimes together. When she became pregnant they gave her $350 dollars and shipped her to the Philippines for an abortion. She refused the abortion and almost died of malnutrition.

Rita Miller came to Allred to force the priests to take DNA tests because she wanted to know who her daughter’s father was. Allred believed Rita’s fantastical story and sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who repeatedly denounced Allred and her client. One L.A. bishop charged on TV that Rita was “a bad girl with a bad reputation.” In fact she had never had a date or kissed a boy.

Gloria Allred finally won her case for Rita Miller in 2002 after lobbying the state to extend the statute of limitations for childhood abuse by priests.

Then there was Megan Wright, the tragic student at Dominican College near Manhattan, who alleged she was gang-raped on campus. Her mother says the college failed to do what the law required, unwilling to jeopardize its reputation with applicants. Megan felt unsafe returning to college and committed suicide. Allred is suing the college.

On another note, Gloria Allred was angered because she wasn’t allowed to join the all-male celebrity Friar’s Club. She litigated and won. When the Beverly Hills club refused to let her use the steam room, she suggested separate days for men and women. They again refused. Allred became the first to file a claim with the California State Board of Equalization under a new statute that denied tax deductions to members of clubs with over 400 members who practice sexual discrimination.

Finally Gloria was admitted to the steam room. She wore an 1890s bathing suit. The men quickly covered their private parts when Gloria took out a tape recorder and sang, “Is That All There Is?”

The first person in Manhattan to file a complaint of sex discrimination against a private club, she pushed Henny Youngman away when he tried to block her entry to our Friar’s Club.

Read the book. Crack your knuckles.
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Susan Braudy is the author and journalist whose last book, Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, was nominated for a Pulitzer by publisher Alfred Knopf.

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