A few years ago, Marisa Woytek, a lance corporal in the Marines, decided to help other women deal with a problem she’d already dealt with several times herself. She was going to get their photographs removed from private Facebook groups like Just the Tip of the Spear. (The name refers both to a ploy to coax a woman into having sex and to a military tactic.) Woytek didn’t consider herself a feminist, but she was sick of military sexism. The Marine Corps is the only branch of the armed services that still segregates basic training by gender; in 2014, nearly eight per cent of female marines reported having been sexually assaulted within the previous year. On Just the Tip of the Spear’s Facebook page, underneath the screenshot of a uniformed marine named Erika Butner, there were typical comments. “Would smash,” one male marine wrote. Another asked, “Who has her nudes?” Woytek messaged Butner and offered to help. She contacted the group’s secretive administrators, who, by then, had become used to her take-down requests. They agreed to pull Butner’s photo.
Woytek and Butner became friends. In the fall of 2016, they learned about a new Facebook group, called Marines United. In this one, men weren’t only reposting pictures of female colleagues but also plundering them—hacking social-media accounts, trading nude images from past and present relationships. The group had nearly thirty thousand members; many of the women in the photographs were identified by name, rank, and posting. Under a photo of a female drill sergeant, an active-duty marine wrote, “10/10 would rape.” In January of this year, Woytek called a Marine Corps tip line to report the group, and Butner e-mailed the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Neither heard back. The group continued to grow.
On March 4th, a veteran of the Marines named Thomas Brennan broke the story on Reveal, the Web site of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Nearly every national news organization picked it up; Woytek spoke to the Washington Post the next day. “Even if I could, I’m never reenlisting,” she told the paper. Her e-mail and social-media accounts were flooded with threats. Her father, a cop in San Bernardino, e-mailed the attorney Gloria Allred. “His favorite saying is ‘Don’t start the fight, finish it,’ ” Woytek told me recently. “He’s a big Gloria fangirl.” Allred called her the next day. Two days after that, Woytek and Butner flew to Los Angeles, and held a press conference in Allred’s office. It was International Women’s Day, and Allred was dressed in red for the occasion.
This was the first step in what Allred calls “creative lawyering.” There was no litigation on the table. Instead, she was aiming to influence the court of public opinion by getting the victim’s perspective in the news. Lately, not a day goes by without Allred’s name being mentioned in the news somewhere, as my Google alerts can attest. (Allred also receives these alerts; in the past few months, she has occasionally forwarded them to me, with the note “Please see below.”) The approach attracts criticism from people who say that Allred is more interested in the spotlight than in justice. It also works.
Less than a week after the press conference with Woytek and Butner, there was a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, in which Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, excoriated the Marines for their apparent inaction. (Marines United was still up and running; the military had known about similar groups since at least 2013.) Allred then held another press conference with Woytek and Butner, and outlined three goals: legislation banning nonconsensual sharing of intimate photographs, a meeting with the House Armed Services Committee, and a meeting with the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. In April, Woytek testified, in uniform, before the Senate, and later that month she met with the commandant. In May, the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Against Technological Exploitation (PRIVATE) Act passed unanimously in the House. The bill awaits a Senate vote. It would make nonconsensual sharing of intimate photographs a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In June, I visited the law offices of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, high up in a granite-and-glass building on the corner of Crescent Heights and Wilshire, just outside Miracle Mile. I took a seat in an airy room where Allred holds press conferences—a familiar dark-wood bookcase, lined with bound volumes, occupied one wall. Allred swept in moments later, wearing a bright-pink bouclé suit jacket. Woytek and Butner followed her, in business casual, with tattoos poking out from beneath their sleeves. Butner’s forearm was inked with a line from “Star Wars”: “DIE REBEL SCUM.” It was Woytek’s first day as a civilian, and she was practically vibrating with expectant verve. Allred distributed salads and sandwiches and asked if everyone had a muffin. “I’m a mother,” she said. “I’m always afraid everyone’s going to starve to death. I don’t want that on my watch.”
We talked about the latest developments in the case. A few dozen men involved with the Facebook groups had been disciplined. A couple of marines had gotten pay reductions. Meanwhile, other Facebook groups had arisen. (In July, a marine pleaded guilty in the first court-martial related to Marines United. Two days later, a story broke about a new shared drive, which included photos of an unconscious naked woman.) “Oh, we’re not done,” Allred said, almost mischievously.
While she got up to make a phone call, I asked Woytek and Butner if their friends had been skeptical of the decision to work with Allred. They’d heard all the criticism, they told me—that she was an ambulance chaser, that she was more interested in money and media attention than in her clients. “People think she’s telling us what to say, or pressuring us, and she’s never!” Woytek said. “She shoves the press out of the way for us—like, ‘No, you can talk to me! ’ And I’m, like, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ ”
As Allred sat back down, I asked if they felt like different people, pre-Allred and post. Woytek nodded. “I’m empowered,” she said, welling up. “I’m a feminist.”
Allred clasped her hands, electrified. “Yay!” she shouted. “And she wouldn’t have said either thing before!”
“I have tears in my eyes,” Woytek said, sheepishly.
“Stop!” Butner wailed. She had also teared up.
“Really, I’ve grown as a woman, not just as a person,” Woytek said.
“I’ve always been a feminist,” Butner said. “But, if we didn’t have Gloria, I don’t know where this would’ve gone.”
Allred smiled, beatifically, and said, “They have become the women they were meant to be.”
Gloria Allred may be the most famous practicing attorney in the United States. She has attained that renown less through litigation—though she has done plenty of that—than through a blend of high-profile legal advocacy and public relations. The mention of Allred to another trial lawyer often elicits a discreet pause, then a slightly raised eyebrow, followed by something like “Gloria is really, really great at what she does.” What she does, as far as the public can see, is show up in front of TV cameras, five feet two, in her black turtleneck, with her gold jewelry and her brightly colored jacket and her clients by her side, and deliver her message with bulldog aplomb. Her voice has the texture of pavement—dark, rough, reassuring, consistent. She has a dry sense of humor, which, these days, tends to emerge in a bemused tone or a sly look, and in a general willingness to play herself as a character. Once, when I asked her about her beach house in Malibu, she said, “Did you ask me if I live there? I have a physical residence there, but my answer to your question is what Mother Jones once said: My home is wherever my shoes are, and my shoes are wherever there’s a wrong to right.”
After Allred and the marines left to wrap up their meeting privately, a camera crew from the L.G.B.T. magazine The Advocate materialized in the conference room. They had come to film a documentary segment with Allred, and they started setting up their gear.
“Does she need powder?” one producer asked.
“I don’t think so,” another said. “That foundation she’s got on—she knows what she’s doing.”
The crew didn’t need to prep her; they began filming as soon as she walked back into the room. With the Hollywood Hills behind her and the bright lights illuminating her frosted and immovable hairdo, Allred ran through an abbreviated history of her work for the gay community. In 1983, she sued the Los Angeles restaurant Papa Choux, which had denied service to a lesbian couple. In 1989, she represented Paul Jasperson, a man with AIDS who’d been turned away from a nail salon in West Hollywood. (She continued with the lawsuit after Jasperson died.) In 2004, she represented Robin Tyler and Diane Olson in the first challenge to California’s prohibition of same-sex marriage. She won all three cases, establishing anti-discrimination legal precedents. She remains close to Tyler and Olson, who surprised her with lunch at Nobu this summer on her seventy-sixth birthday.
“I am honored to be part of this battle, and I will continue to be for the rest of my life—and, if possible, from the great beyond as well,” she told The Advocate, her owl-brown eyes locking on the camera. The segment concluded, and the producers erupted in astonished giggles. “You are so iconic, Gloria!” one of them said. “All I can say is wow,” another told her.
“It’s four-twenty-nine,” Allred said triumphantly, brandishing her phone and catching my eye. She had a call scheduled at four-thirty.
Three hours later, just about everyone at the firm—there are eleven other lawyers, along with paralegals and assistants—had deposited their coffee mugs in the office kitchen and gone home. Allred was still working. The firm has three shifts of secretaries to cover its workday. Allred has no hobbies and few indulgences. She is stylish but doesn’t like shopping. She doesn’t cook. (“If I cook, I could be helping someone else during that time,” she told me.) She works on Saturdays and Sundays. She told me that she hasn’t taken a vacation since the eighties. (When I asked her law partner Nathan Goldberg about this, he said, “I do remember a vacation, but it was in the seventies.”) She maintains her stamina without caffeine, her equilibrium without alcohol. She lost interest in dating a long time ago.
Shortly before eight, she led me through the office’s cream-colored hallways, decorated with tasteful prints of floral paintings in gilded frames. “I wanted it to be light, because I feel that people come in with very heavy problems,” she said. The walls outside her corner office are covered with large photos of Allred with former Presidents (Reagan, Clinton, Obama) and dozens of diplomas, posters, honors, and awards. The inside of her office is like a rococo educational museum, half dedicated to the storied career of Gloria Allred and half to the history of women’s rights. Suffragist memorabilia are everywhere. Above a red velvet bench is a large antique crest that reads “Dieu et Mon Droit.” There are political cartoons commemorating her victories; framed press clippings; a Lucite plaque that says “BE REASONABLE, DO IT MY WAY.” She walked over to a four-foot-long telescope and tilted it toward the window. “This is so I can watch what the bad guys are doing,” she said.
Allred has an affinity for props. In 1981, she presented John Schmitz, a California state senator who had introduced anti-abortion legislation, with a black leather chastity belt. He responded by calling her a “slick butch lawyeress.” The following year, he held a press conference on the first day of Passover to discuss Yasir Arafat’s plans for peace in the Middle East; Allred showed up with an aquarium of live frogs and shouted, “A plague on the house of Schmitz!” Her most famous stunt may be one from 1987, after she filed a complaint against the Friars Club of Beverly Hills for not allowing women access to its recreational facilities. She burst into the club’s steam room, wearing a nineteenth-century bathing suit, waving a tape measure, and singing the Peggy Lee hit “Is That All There Is?”
Allred has an unusual relationship to the question of what is proper and what is not. She expects her clients to conduct themselves with integrity, but she is unconcerned with the decisions they made prior to whatever matter brought them her way. This stance makes her a committed, effective champion (some clients call her Mama Gloria); it also attracts criticism from feminists who say that presenting such a wide assortment of women as equally in need of justice undermines the cause of fair treatment. In 2010, in the Los Angeles Times, Sandy Banks defined Allred’s feminist framework as “rights without responsibilities.”
At the time, Allred was deep in a tabloid-friendly phase of her career. She had recently, on behalf of the former child star and labor activist Paul Petersen, filed a petition seeking a financial guardian for the children of Nadya Suleman, better known as Octomom. (After giving birth to octuplets, Suleman had courted interview and reality-TV-show offers. “We believe that the babies are entitled to remuneration,” Allred said.) She had represented two of Tiger Woods’s former mistresses, who were seeking compensation from Woods in the form of an apology or, perhaps, a settlement. (Allred negotiated ten million dollars for Rachel Uchitel, reportedly just before Uchitel was scheduled to hold a press conference about Woods. Uchitel was forced to give back most of the money after Woods claimed that she had violated a confidentiality agreement. She then threatened to sue Allred for malpractice.)
Allred had also taken on the case of Debrahlee Lorenzana, a woman who claimed that Citibank fired her for being “too hot.” Before her second breast augmentation, Lorenzana had said in an interview that she wanted to look like “tits on a stick.” Allred eventually dropped Lorenzana as a client, but the association stuck. Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote, in The Atlantic, “What Allred seems to be offering clients such as Lorenzana is shelter, in victimhood, from their own poor choices.” Michelle Goldberg wrote, at Tablet, that there was a “tragic tension at the heart of Allred’s work. Few have done more to advocate on behalf of sexual-harassment victims. And few have done more to make harassment seem laughable.”
Allred’s career can be seen as a decades-long project to expand the boundaries of legitimate victimhood. Her clients include Ginger Lee, one of Anthony Weiner’s sexting correspondents, and Amber Frey, one of the mistresses of Scott Peterson, the California salesman who was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife. (Allred represented Frey during the murder trial.) Allred sees these women as victims of male entitlement who are seeking the justice they deserve. Other people see them in the same way they might see Allred: craven, self-interested, and vaguely in bad taste. When asked about criticism from feminists, or whether it’s reasonable to draw a dividing line somewhere between Lorenzana and, say, the female farmworkers in California for whom she negotiated a $1.68-million settlement in a class-action sex-discrimination suit, in 2008, Allred answers by saying that she’s not a philosopher; or by explaining that she operates on instinct; or by dismissing the commentary as boring and unoriginal; or by saying that she thinks everyone should have access to justice, and that’s that. “I’m controversial because the status of women is controversial,” she told me. She believes that she could not engage with people’s disdain for her cases and still keep up the pace of her work and the tunnel vision required to maintain it.
The charge of ambulance chaser, at least, does not appear to be accurate. “I’ve been with the firm for forty-one years,” Nathan Goldberg told me, “and I can categorically state that we have never sought out a client.” The screenwriter and “Army Wives” creator Katherine Fugate, who eight years ago became part of Allred’s very small inner circle—she came to her office to try to secure the rights to a client’s story and they ended up ordering takeout and talking into the night—told me, “She should have a bumper sticker that says ‘GLORIA ALLRED: I DON’T CALL ANYBODY.’ ” Most of the firm’s cases are private. But Allred’s temperament, location, and media instincts have led to a self-perpetuating sort of expertise. For many people, hers is the single name that comes to mind when considering the ambitious pursuit of victims’ rights. She is the person you call if you’re a cop with a daughter who’s been harassed by her military colleagues, or if you’re a sixty-year-old woman who’s finally ready to accuse Roman Polanski of molesting you when you were a teen-ager. There is no shortage of the Gloria Allred type of case.
Five days after I visited Allred in Los Angeles, I sat in the back of a courtroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a half-hour drive from Philadelphia, and watched a bank of journalists whisper as Allred walked in and took her seat. It was 8:30 A.M. on Monday, June 5th, and the criminal trial of Bill Cosby was about to begin. He stood accused of three counts of felony indecent aggravated assault against Andrea Constand, who had been the director of women’s-basketball operations at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, in January, 2004, when the incident in question took place. Each count carried a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.
The Cosby case had become a high-profile proving ground both for Allred’s media-centered strategy and for the story of righteous victimhood which she has put forward throughout her career. Constand first reported the incident in 2005. Cosby had invited her to his house, she said, then offered her pills, and assaulted her after she was incapacitated. At the time, the Montgomery County district attorney conducted interviews and decided not to pursue the case, citing a lack of evidence. But Constand was not the first woman to accuse Cosby of rape, and, in the years following, many other women came forward. It took a resurgence of media attention—rooted in Cosby’s celebrity status, the salacious nature of the accusations, and a new wave of mainstream sympathy for sexual-assault victims—to prompt the current district attorney to file charges, in 2016, shortly before the statute of limitations was set to expire.
In recent decades, the cultural understanding of sexual assault and the legal procedures governing its adjudication have progressed in rough correspondence. As activists in the nineteen-seventies mounted a broad anti-rape movement, feminist legal theorists fought judicial provisions that discriminated against rape victims. (These included rules requiring that the victim physically resist her attacker and provide corroborating evidence, as well as cautionary instructions to juries about the danger of false accusations.) At the Cosby trial, the fact of cultural progress—and its attendant backlash—felt ever-present. I talked to more than a few journalists and casual observers who seemed glad that our conception of sexual assault has expanded but who hesitated to apply new standards retroactively—who said things like “He definitely did it, but, back then, everyone else did it, too.” Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern, told me recently, “Over all these years, there may have been a reluctance to hold Cosby accountable for acts that, at the time, didn’t seem like sexual assault. But now these acts have a different meaning. People like Gloria have advanced an outcry.” Tuerkheimer noted that Allred had helped push the case to trial in multiple ways. She had bolstered Constand’s credibility by encouraging women to come forward and publicizing their accounts. “She was able to help construct a narrative that made it very difficult, at least outside the courtroom, to be dismissive of what otherwise would have been dismissed,” Tuerkheimer said.
Cosby and Allred have lived much of their lives in strange and striking proximity. Born four years apart, they both grew up poor in Philadelphia, and attended high schools down the block from each other. They both received master’s degrees in education and later became famous and wealthy in Los Angeles. For most of the two and a half decades that Allred spent in Philadelphia, she was an energetic extrovert with no idea, she says, that women occupied a secondary place in the world. She was born Gloria Rachel Bloom on July 3, 1941, to two doting Jewish parents, Morris and Stella. Stella was English; she and Morris had met, Gloria says they told her, “in Baltimore, on a streetcar named desire.” Both left school after the eighth grade. Morris worked six days a week as a door-to-door salesman, hawking Fuller brushes and photographic enlargements, and the family (Gloria was the only child) lived in a row house in southwest Philly. They didn’t attend synagogue together—Morris was too busy, and Stella explored many religious ideas, going to a church one week and an Ethical Culture meeting the next—but Gloria went there for Sunday school, and was confirmed. Her parents were determined to do well by her: on days when they had only enough money for one movie ticket, Morris would send her into the theatre and wait for her in a nearby park. When Gloria was in junior high, she and her mother would put on “American Bandstand” and dance around the living room after school.
At fourteen, Gloria was admitted to the Philadelphia High School for Girls, which was, at the time, one of only a handful of all-girls public schools in the country, and highly competitive. The women who ran the school modelled a matter-of-fact female ambition that seemed, during Gloria’s protected adolescence, galvanizing but hardly defiant. On the first day of her freshman year, she met Fern Brown—now Fern Brown Caplan—who was seated next to her in homeroom. Brown’s eyes were still dilated from an ophthalmology appointment, and she was straining to see the teacher. In an anecdote she’s had to relate to dozens of journalists and gala attendees over the years, Caplan remembers Allred leaning over and saying, “You look like you need help. Can I help?” They became best friends.
“We were different in high school,” Caplan told me. “I was very studious, a big nerd. She was a cheerleader, class treasurer.” In Allred’s memoir, “Fight Back and Win,” published in 2006, she recounts the story of a boy asking her how she could be a cheerleader at an all-girls high school: “ ‘What’s there to cheer about?’ he asked.” Caplan describes Allred as “always a limelight person,” the most popular girl at every synagogue dance. Allred’s memory is slightly different. “All I did was study,” she told me. Girls High was rigorous, and she wasn’t a proto-Gloria Allred yet. Except, she added, after thinking about it, she did receive a class award for Most Persistent. Also, her French teacher nicknamed her Jeanne d’Arc.
After high school, Allred enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1960, at nineteen, she married a tall, attractive senior, from a patrician family, named Peyton Bray. In her sophomore year, she got pregnant and gave birth to their daughter, Lisa. (Allred writes that Bray left her side while she was in labor and went out for a beer.) She soon found herself hemmed in by domestic routine. “When I wasn’t caring for Lisa, I was cleaning, studying, or sleeping, in that order,” she writes. She and Bray fought frequently; they divorced in 1962. He was later diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and eventually committed suicide. When I asked Allred about it, she couldn’t remember the year. “You’d have to ask Lisa,” she said. (Bray died in 2003.)
Allred’s parents helped her raise Lisa while she finished college. In 1968, Gloria married William Allred, who adopted Lisa. They divorced in 1987, and, after graduating from law school, Lisa took her grandparents’ last name. As Lisa Bloom, she has followed her mother’s professional trajectory, becoming a lawyer who specializes in women’s-rights cases that often involve celebrities and frequently appearing on cable news shows. (They have their differences: Bloom loves animals and travel and goes to Burning Man every year with her husband and three kids.) Earlier this year, Bloom represented the three women who accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment. “I came up with the media and legal strategy to take him down,” she told me. “We made a video of us calling in the complaints to the Fox News hotline. You can’t let these stories die—you have to keep them in the news.” Advertisers pulled away from O’Reilly, and he was ousted from the network. Bloom also represents two of Cosby’s accusers, including the actress Janice Dickinson.
Allred represents thirty-three of them. (There are nearly sixty. Allred has taken Cosby’s deposition in a civil suit brought against him, in California, by Judy Huth, which is set to go to trial in 2018.) Half a dozen Cosby accusers came to Norristown to observe the trial. On the first day, two of them squealed when they saw Allred in the bathroom, and ran over to give her a hug. During the trial, Allred sat in the courtroom and scribbled notes on a legal pad. One day, her phone rang, and she was booted from the courtroom; a Page Six item about it was all over my Twitter feed when I next checked my phone. Each afternoon, she walked out onto the steps of the courthouse, and the cameras assembled in front of her in an enormous flashing scrum.
The prosecution had proffered thirteen of the accusers as “prior bad-act witnesses,” hoping to establish Cosby’s modus operandi. In pretrial proceedings, Cosby’s defense team had argued that Allred, who represented ten of the thirteen, had organized this campaign herself. Allred, they said, had contacted law enforcement on behalf of her clients; she had flown to Philadelphia to speak with the district attorney. On the Sunday after the trial began, I met Allred
Johnson, who is represented by Allred, was the prosecution’s first witness. She had worked at William Morris as an assistant to Cosby’s agent. Cosby took an interest in her career, she said, and this led to an invitation for lunch in a hotel bungalow. There he gave her a pill that incapacitated her, and molested her. When Johnson was on the stand, the defense attorney Brian McMonagle asked her again and again, with slight variations, whether Allred had written the statement that she gave at their initial press conference. Each time, Johnson said no. He then asked if Allred had told her what to say on the stand, if she had fed her certain words. “No,” Johnson said again, looking bewildered. McMonagle’s cross-examination eventually brought her to tears.
Johnson’s story had obvious parallels with Constand’s: a work relationship, an offer of pills. Both women knew that Cosby wielded power over their professional lives and they behaved accordingly. They both testified that they had never been interested in sexual contact with him, nor had they consented to such a thing. There was not much disagreement about the basic facts of the case—the jury’s calculations depended on whether small inconsistencies, both perceived and actual, in Constand’s testimony made her seem like a liar, and whether her story, much of which Cosby had corroborated, met the jurors’ understanding of sexual assault.
In a police interview, Cosby described his behavior that night by saying, “I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I was not stopped.” Over dinner, Allred repeated the line to me, incredulous. “ ‘Somewhere between permission and rejection’? What is that? I always say—you’re either pregnant or you’re not. There’s no in-between.” I asked her if she’d ever talked about consent growing up. “Absolutely not,” she said. “We didn’t talk about rape, or abortion, or child support, or sexual harassment, or sex discrimination, or anything. It was like the Cave Age.” She recalled one day during a period when she was teaching in Philadelphia and commuting to N.Y.U. for her master’s degree. In a philosophy class, she brought up the lack of rights for black Americans, and her professor asked her, What about women’s rights? “What rights don’t women have?” she remembered saying. “All he said was ‘You’ll find out.’ ”
Allred majored in English at Penn, and wrote her undergraduate honors thesis on Ralph Ellison, Alex Haley, and James Baldwin. She graduated as a single mother, “flat broke, recently divorced, and undecided about how to make my way in life,” she writes in her memoir. She took a job as an assistant buyer at a Gimbels department store, earning seventy-five dollars a week. When she found out that a male assistant buyer earned ninety, she asked about the discrepancy and was told that her colleague needed to earn a family wage. (He was a bachelor, Allred says.) She left Gimbels and took the exam to become a public-school teacher, and began teaching at Benjamin Franklin High, which had an all-male and mostly black student body. Bray wasn’t paying child support, and she had a hard time making ends meet. Shortly before she moved to Los Angeles, in 1966—“I figured, if I was going to be poor, then I’d be poor where it’s warm,” she writes—she hired an attorney, and Bray was arrested for nonpayment. The charge was dropped soon afterward; Allred doesn’t remember why.
In L.A., Allred and her daughter moved into a rented house just south of the 101. They shared it with one of Allred’s girlfriends, who had three daughters and had recently left her husband. She started teaching at another mostly black high school, in Watts. This was a year after the riots. Allred still didn’t think of her life as “cause-oriented,” she told me. During her first year in California, she went to Acapulco for a vacation. One night, a local physician asked her out to dinner. He had to make a few house calls first, he said, and they stopped by a motel. He took her to an empty room, pulled out a gun, and raped her. She didn’t report the crime to the police, fearing that she wouldn’t be believed. Soon after returning home, she discovered that she was pregnant.
It was seven years before Roe v. Wade, and abortion was illegal in California. She made an appointment for one and went alone, as instructed. She began hemorrhaging after she got home, and the man who had performed the procedure declined to offer guidance. Allred was afraid to go to the hospital. She sat at home, feverish and bleeding; eventually, her roommate called an ambulance, which took her to a hospital ward filled with other women who had had illegal abortions. She didn’t realize until later that patients around her had died. A nurse told her, as she was recovering, “This will teach you a lesson.”
“If you were to write a screenplay of her life, that’s the catalyst for the story,” Fugate told me. “That’s what motivates her.” She added, “It’s not the act, either—it’s the aftermath. It’s the female nurse who told her that she hoped she’d learned her lesson. When she talked about that, it was the only time in seven or eight years of friendship that I’ve ever seen her eyes flare. That’s what she wants to protect her clients against. Gloria will never allow herself to be spoken to like that again.”
I asked Allred, at the hotel restaurant, if she’d felt, while she was in the hospital, like she needed a champion, and if she’d then decided to become the champion she’d lacked. “No,” she said. “I was just stunned. This was not something I had anticipated for myself, not something anyone had ever talked about with me.” Though she was raising her daughter to be outspoken—“I was born a baby feminist, and I was radicalized after that,” Bloom told me—Allred didn’t talk about her trauma initially. She didn’t tell Caplan for a long time, or her mother. Then, in the eighties, she decided to disclose her abortion to a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I thought, If I’m going to be ashamed as a women’s-rights attorney, what hope do we have?”
Before Allred moved to Los Angeles, she had dated a law student and developed an interest in what he was studying; she picked up an application to Penn’s law school but discarded it because of the steep tuition. In L.A., she was introduced to William Allred by a mutual acquaintance. He ran an aircraft-manufacturing outfit called Donallco, which he’d founded in the fifties. After they were married, they moved to a house in Burbank, where Gloria invited her students over for pool parties. She left her school to work at the Los Angeles Teachers Association, organizing teachers during the East L.A. student walkouts, and then returned to teaching and earned a credential at U.S.C. to become a high-school principal. “I wanted to be a principal in Watts,” she told me, “but this was the time of the Black Power movement, and they wanted African-American principals in those high schools. I agreed with them—and when they offered me a position in the Valley I said, Thanks but no thanks.”
She decided to go to law school, and enrolled at Loyola. Bloom remembers her mother as “extra grateful to be in law school, doing what she was meant to do.” Allred befriended two classmates, Michael Maroko and Nathan Goldberg, who shared her interest in social justice. In 1976, a year after graduating, and with financial support from William, the three of them started a firm. Their expertise developed quickly: discrimination, harassment, sexual abuse, employment.
In 1980, Allred successfully fought against Los Angeles County’s practice of shackling pregnant female prisoners during labor and childbirth. In 1984, she sued the Los Angeles archdiocese on behalf of Rita Milla, a devout woman from a low-income family who claimed that she had been regularly forced into sex with Catholic priests. Abuse by priests was not widely discussed at the time; it was another decade and a half before the Boston Globe’s landmark investigative series confirmed the Church’s methods of systematic concealment. Allred fought the case for years, and ultimately proved Milla’s claims. In 1985, she and Maroko settled another high-profile case: A group of Holocaust deniers had offered fifty thousand dollars to anyone who could produce evidence that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. After a man named Mel Mermelstein, who had survived the camp, provided his own testimony, other eyewitness accounts, and ashes from Auschwitz, the group published a letter accusing him of perpetrating a hoax. Mermelstein sued, and eventually received a ninety-thousand-dollar settlement, a formal apology, and an on-the-record acknowledgment of the truth of his story.
Allred became well known in Los Angeles. Fugate remembers being in college in the early eighties and thinking of Allred as a sort of local Wonder Woman figure. “There would be a news story on TV, man after man after man talking about it, and then, suddenly, this petite, dark-haired woman would take the stage, with this air of bravery,” she said. In her structured eighties outfits, Allred cut a bold and recognizable figure. She walked in the gay-pride parade, shouted into megaphones at protests, and posed for photographs to publicize and commemorate her work. Goldberg told me, “It was obvious that, for Gloria, media was very intuitive.” He pointed out that the firm has never hired a public-relations consultant.
In 1985, federal investigators opened an inquiry into Donallco, which was suspected of selling counterfeit aircraft parts. In 1986, Gloria asked William for a separation. They divorced the following year, after William was convicted on charges of conspiring to defraud the government. (Allred, Maroko & Goldberg represented William during his criminal trial.) Following a hearing after the divorce, Gloria was awarded four million dollars. William contested the judgment in a bankruptcy hearing, in 1992. “It’s the height of hypocrisy for her to do this,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I put her through law school, and now she’s going to take everything I ever earned.” He added, “I don’t think feminists would approve of that. Feminists believe in equal rights for men and women.” When I asked Gloria about his comments, she told me, “I’ve never seen that article. I’m not aware of any such quotes.” Eventually, I reached William on the phone. “A reporter for The New Yorker?” he said, after I identified myself. “I think you probably have the wrong Allred. Bye.” When I called back, he said he didn’t want to comment on anything. “It’s all in the past,” he said.
On Monday of the second week of the trial, Cosby’s defense team called a single witness, a laconic police sergeant named Richard Schaffer. McMonagle asked Schaffer about a 2005 document he had created, called “Questions for Andrea,” in which Schaffer expressed curiosity about why Constand had agreed to meet Cosby at a casino before the night of the alleged assault. Then, seven minutes after beginning its case, the defense rested. The two sides presented their closing arguments, and the jury began deliberating that night. On Tuesday, the jurors returned to the courtroom to ask the judge, Steven T. O’Neill, several questions, including a request for clarification concerning the phrase “without her knowledge.” Judge O’Neill said that he could not define the charges any further.
That night, I spotted Allred in the courthouse. It had been a long, hot day, and the journalists were getting sloppy—complaining, charging their phones next to the bathroom, eating takeout on the floor. Allred was sitting ramrod straight on a little bench, sending e-mails on her laptop. She was supposed to take the train to Washington, D.C., on Thursday, to testify at a city-council hearing about a potential extension of the criminal statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, but she was waiting for the verdict. “I need to be here for the accusers,” she said.
The D.C. hearing was part of a larger effort initiated by several of these women. Frustrated that they couldn’t file charges against Cosby because the statute of limitations had expired, they had asked Allred if an extension would help. It wouldn’t help them, she said, but it would help other people—and, if they found a legislator in their states willing to sponsor a bill, she’d help them advocate for change. She and her clients have successfully won statute-of-limitations extensions in Nevada and Colorado. Thanks to their efforts in California, there is now no statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault, and child-molestation cases in that state. Allred is proud that her clients are working to change the law; she hopes that some of them will think about running for office. Allred was approached years ago by people who wanted her to run for a seat in the California State Senate; she didn’t seriously consider it, she told me. She isn’t particularly religious, but she believes in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, that it is the job of individuals to repair the world. “Each one of us has the responsibility of turning a negative experience into a positive experience,” she had told me the previous week, in Los Angeles. “Maybe that’s why these bad things happened. Maybe that’s the purpose—if there is a purpose, and I don’t know that there is. But a human being likes to think there is.”
Extending the statute of limitations will not lessen the inherent difficulty of securing a conviction in a sexual-assault case. The crime is uniquely tough to adjudicate: it frequently occurs in private, without witnesses; the challenge of convincing a twelve-person jury of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” will remain prodigious even as attitudes toward the crime change. But there are many avenues that lead to a more victim-friendly world. In her office, Allred had talked about how outlawing the nonconsensual distribution of nude photographs wouldn’t stop the practice. “The fact that rape is a crime doesn’t mean that rape is no longer going to happen,” she said. But, when an act is recognized as criminal, that in itself can “serve as a disincentive. It will mean that there are consequences.”
After a week of deliberation, the Cosby jury failed to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. Allred held a press conference outside the courthouse, flanked by two accusers. “Justice will come,” she said, expressing her hope that the court would allow more bad-act witnesses to testify when they retried the case. She praised the courage of the women who had come forward. For a moment, she smiled, as if consoling a dear friend.
The Cosby trial will begin again next April, with a new defense team, led by Thomas Mesereau, a Los Angeles lawyer whose past clients—Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Robert Blake—are more or less the opposite of Allred’s. (The two lawyers have publicly sparred in the past.) Regardless of the outcome, Cosby’s career is over, and his legacy is in ruins. There is a growing sense among women that it is now possible to name, shame, and prosecute sexual predators—and that they will find public support if they do. In his closing argument for the defense, McMonagle had shouted, “We know why we’re here! We’re not here because of Andrea Constand.” He pointed to the journalists in the back of the courtroom. “We’re here because of them banging the drum!”
It would seem that we have entered a new era of women’s empowerment, were it not for ample evidence to the contrary. Last November, for instance, the United States elected Donald Trump President. Allred has tussled with Trump before. In 2012, she represented a transgender woman named Jenna Talackova, who had been barred from competing in the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump bought in 1996. (He sold it in September, 2015, during his campaign.) At a press conference, Allred pointed out that Talackova hadn’t asked Trump for any proof that he was a naturally born man. In a comment to TMZ, Trump took the reference to his genitalia a step further: “I think Gloria would be very impressed with me, I really do.” Talackova was ultimately allowed to compete, but Trump wouldn’t drop it. On Twitter, he asked, “Is Gloria a man or a woman????—- few men would know the answer to that one.” Two years later, one of Allred’s clients was in the greenroom before an appearance on Fox News, and Trump popped in. “Gloria is absolutely relentless,” he said. “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever fire her,” he added, magnanimously, in an anecdote that Allred later relayed to the Daily Beast and repeated to me.
At a Thai restaurant near her office, I asked Allred if the election had changed her sense of moral progress in the United States. “The election was a heartbreaker,” she said. “But that’s the way it’s always been for gender progress, which has always been behind racial progress—two steps forward, one step back.” She was a delegate for Hillary Clinton, with whom she is friendly. The two have more than a few qualities in common. They are both prominent feminists whose ambition has grated on the public. (Which is to say that they are both prominent, ambitious feminists.) They speak like people who long ago found the story they wanted to stick to. Each seems temperamentally incapable of absorbing the charge of self-interest, having woven self-interest together so tightly with an interest in the public good.
On November 8th, Allred was in downtown Los Angeles at an Election Night party for supporters of the Clinton campaign. As the electoral map started turning red, young women at the event came up to her, sobbing, asking her what they should do, what could be done. “They expected me to have the answer,” she said. Allred prides herself on supplying answers, and options, for women in crisis. But that night she didn’t have one.
One answer that Allred provided for herself, later, was to sue the President-elect. During the campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of past sexual misconduct. He responded by saying, “All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.” Allred picked up four new clients. Three days before the Inauguration, she held a press conference with Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” who alleged that Trump had harassed and groped her at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 and then took back a job offer after she rebuffed him. They announced that Zervos was suing Trump for defamation. On January 21st, Allred walked with Zervos in the Women’s March on Washington, flanked by other Trump accusers. “It changed Summer,” Allred said. “It’s a very scary thing to have a lawsuit against the President of the United States, particularly this President. But the Women’s March showed Summer that she was not alone.”
Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s New York lawyer, has filed several motions arguing that Trump has Presidential immunity. In a brief filed in July, he argued that Trump’s statements about the accusers should be seen as campaign rhetoric intended to secure a victory, and should not be taken literally. He also cited statements from Allred at her pre-Inauguration press conference—she had likened the suit to Paula Jones’s sexual-harassment case against Bill Clinton—as evidence that the primary goal of the lawsuit is to trigger impeachment proceedings. Allred seems happy to give that impression. She smiles when she talks about the prospect of taking Trump’s deposition in the matter. “I look forward to him telling the truth, as I expect any witness under oath to do,” she told me. Her smile got bigger. “And if he doesn’t—if he’s not truthful about a material fact, and he knows he’s not being truthful about a material fact—then that would constitute perjury, a high crime or misdemeanor for which he could be impeached.”
Since her initial press conference with Zervos, Allred has been saying that, if Trump retracted what he said about Zervos, “we would dismiss the case, and we would not seek damages or attorney’s fees.” Trump wouldn’t have to testify under oath about his sexual behavior. “But,” she added, “we would need an acknowledgment that what she said was true.”
By all accounts, Allred refuses to consider retirement. “You’d have to drag her kicking and screaming out of the office,” Bloom told me. One day in August, I spoke to Allred shortly after she went to court in Los Angeles to represent a transgender woman who had been assaulted and then immediately flew to a small town in Texas to represent a minor who had been sexually abused by a police detective. “I would be exhausted if I couldn’t work,” she said. Fugate told me, “One day, she’ll just have a heart attack at her desk while she’s in the middle of something, and that’ll be that.”
I asked Allred who will carry on her work when she is gone—her daughter, perhaps? “I hope the next Gloria Allred is many, many young lawyers,” she replied. Within the National Trial Lawyers’ Association, she’s forming a group of women’s-rights attorneys, seeking representatives from every state. “It can’t just be people who have interest,” she said. “They have to have successes, I think.”
The world has changed since Allred first started practicing. She has anticipated, and helped create, a variety of cultural shifts: the advent of unapologetic, mainstream, professionalized feminism; a valuation of victimhood; a broad embrace of personal branding; a tabloid energy that consumes even the White House; a society in which ordinary women have begun to feel confident accusing powerful men who abuse them.
On September 19th, in partnership with the New York law firm Cuti Hecker Wang, Allred filed an opposition brief in her lawsuit against Trump, arguing that the President has no immunity for unofficial acts and that this suit would not interfere with the performance of his duties. The brief supplies seventeen statements from Trump discrediting Zervos or other accusers. “Lies, lies. No witnesses, no nothing. All big lies,” Trump said at a rally in West Palm Beach, last October. “Words matter,” the brief states. Later, it goes on, “Defendant is not above the law.” There is also the occasional flash of wit: “Defendant is of course correct that his office is singularly important.”
Whenever I asked Allred whether she enjoyed what she did, she always turned back to the idea of duty. But I got the distinct sense that sometimes, at least, she finds her work fun. At the Doubletree in Norristown, during the Cosby trial, she was assigned a room adjacent to McMonagle’s and directly across from a conference room where the defense was prepping. When I met her in the lobby, she told me about this, then leaned in close and asked, “Should we go?” We took the elevator upstairs and walked slowly past the room’s big windows. Allred, in the mode of ostentatious inconspicuousness, shook with silent laughter as we passed the huddled team. She stage-whispered, “You’ve got to block me so they don’t see!” A few hours later, when we finished dinner, Allred deadpanned that she was going to go back upstairs and surprise them. She would hold a sign up to the conference-room window, saying “Time’s up!” ♦