Dr Ann Olivarius KC (Hon) OBE is the founding partner of McAllister Olivarius, a transatlantic law firm specializing in cases of race and gender discrimination. An innovator who has made legal history on both sides of the Atlantic, Ann has won multi-million dollar awards for clients in the US and the UK through her pioneering legal practice that is consciously pro-women.
Ann’s journey to the feminist frontlines began in New Jersey, as the oldest of five daughters in a Catholic family that often struggled to make ends meet. Her life changed at 17 via an American Field Service (AFS) scholarship to study in Peru in 1972. Here she saw the poverty and violence that women suffered when they broke the rules – by seeking sexual freedom, abortion, or divorce – in a devoutly Catholic country.
When she returned, Ann’s parents wanted her to alternate between attending a local college for one semester, then making the money to pay for it the next. Instead, she got herself into Yale and worked two jobs to help pay her way, along with generous help from her grandparents.
Studying politics from a feminist perspective, Ann came to believe in a chain of logic that says peace depends on justice, and that justice is not possible if half the population faces systematic barriers to equal treatment. She realized that the essential conditions for a peaceful, prosperous and happier planet are equal pay for equal work, effective legal and cultural barriers against rape, violence, and harassment, and building a culture where women and men are truly equal and can enjoy the challenges of trying to become the best, most effective people they can be. This became her life’s work.
While an undergraduate, Ann identified the problem of widespread sexual harassment of students by professors at Yale and, after the university refused to do anything about it, devised a legal solution. She organized a group of plaintiffs and worked with legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon and lawyers Anne Simon and Kent Harvey to bring the case to court.
At just 21 years old, Ann made American legal history with her colleagues in the landmark 1977 Title IX case Alexander v. Yale, which for the first time determined that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination outlawed by Title IX. That case put every college and university on notice that they had to institute sexual misconduct policies, reporting procedures and grievance boards so that faculty would be deterred from preying on students.
Ann won a Rhodes Scholarship to continue her education in England, one of the first women to receive it, and studied Economics at Somerville College, Oxford. Her dissertation, “Working Democracy: Analysis and Prospects of British Worker Co-operatives,” earned the Nuffield Prize for an outstanding doctorate in Economics. She then attended Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management, where she completed a five-year joint JD/MBA in three years with highest honors, while pregnant in her final year.
Ann has traveled widely across the US, Canada and Europe as well as east Asia, India, South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. After graduating from Yale, she spent four months in poor sections of Manila delivering babies and cleaning up after self-induced abortions with a team of midwives. She believes there is always something to learn from other cultures and likes getting “stuck in.”
Feminist lawyers have changed the world, but rarely has money been a focus of their work. Ann’s’ fruitful career has shown that the two need not be separate. She believes that it is possible to do well by doing good. After finishing her education, Ann dedicated the next ten years of her professional life to mastering complex and often international litigation, finance, and corporate advisory work. She drafted international arbitration rules that helped London become a center for such work. She served as legal and financial advisor to Perot Systems, drafting software licensing contracts that became industry standards, and devising the company’s European structure that underpinned its strong international expansion, leading to the company’s acquisition by Dell, Inc. for $3.9 billion in 2009. At the major law firm Shearman & Sterling, Ann represented the government of Mexico in negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexico’s behalf. She advocated that the agreement particularly seek to advance women and girls in Mexico, an early example of a “feminist foreign policy” that has since been taken up by several countries.
Ann decided to start her own legal practice in 1996, when McAllister Olivarius opened its doors in the US. In 1999, the firm relocated its headquarters to London. A few years later, Ann invited her husband and Yale Law School classmate, Jef McAllister, who served as TIME magazine’s London bureau chief and White House correspondent during the Clinton years, to join her. He has since become the firm’s Managing Partner.
Today, McAllister Olivarius has an international reputation for both its corporate work and its robust representation of women and minorities that have faced misconduct in employment, education and online. Ann has won multi-million-dollar awards for her clients in challenging cases on both sides of the Atlantic.
As a result of her business and legal acumen, some of the world’s most powerful figures have sought advice from Ann, including Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Geoffrey Howe, and Queen Rania of Jordan. Ann prepared Bill Gates for the “roadshow” following Microsoft’s 1986 initial public offering, and advised Baroness Park of Monmouth (the “Queen of Spies”) on matters before the House of Lords, particularly on Northern Ireland, the UN, and how she could discuss her work for MI6 to promote the importance of intelligence work to the public.
In December 2022 she was approved an Honorary King’s Counsel for her “leading role in the fields of women’s rights, sexual harassment and sexual abuse” and was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year’s Honours List in recognition of her services to Justice, Women and Equality.
Ann is also the founder and Chair of the Rhodes Venture, a British research venture that conducts pathbreaking research on high-achieving women. She has overseen several research teams that have collected, through multiple surveys and thousands of hours of interviews, extensive data on more than one thousand women Rhodes Scholars. This project is one of the largest-ever scholarly investigations of how gender shapes women’s professional careers, life choices, accomplishments, failures, and struggles. The Rhodes Project also analyzes the gender gap in leadership in government, business, law, medicine, the academy, and nonprofits. A book based on the project has attracted the interest of a major scholarly press and is in progress.
Forty years after she first made history, Ann remains at the legal vanguard, using her knowledge of the courtroom and the corporate world to expand and redeem the law’s promise of equality for all on both sides of the Atlantic.
Discrimination can come in a variety of forms, based on gender, race, sex, sexual preference, age, religion, disability and ethnicity. At the heart of Ann’s ethos is a commitment to make whole those who have been wronged.
When you’re a woman or person of color, excellence doesn’t always protect you from prejudice. Ann specializes in representing people who have faced discrimination and harassment at work and in holding their employers to account. She often brings cases against precisely the kind of prestigious, legally aggressive and deep-pocketed businesses where she used to work, including publicly-traded companies, top investment banks, and large international law firms. She vigorously advocates on behalf of clients whose rights have been violated.
In both Britain and America, the laws dealing with “revenge pornography” are and changing rapidly. Ann was instrumental in getting Parliament to pass the UK’s first revenge pornography criminal law in April 2015. In a well-known and pioneering case, Ann represented YouTube star Chrissy Chambers, whose ex-boyfriend raped her, filmed the rape without her knowledge, and then distributed the videos on porn sites. The man ultimately apologized to her in court and paid a substantial settlement – the first such civil case of its kind in Britain. Ann and her firm have since consulted with the UK Law Commission on intimate image abuse.
Child Sexual Abuse
As part of her ongoing work protecting vulnerable individuals from sexual exploitation, Ann helped found a new firm, AO Advocates, in partnership with the foremost American legal activist in this area, Jeff Anderson. AO Advocates focused exclusively on bringing historic sexual abuse cases against institutions like the Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, certain sects of Buddhism and Hinduism, Haredi Judaism, care homes, and prestigious schools that have tolerated or ignored the sexual abuse of children for decades. In 2022, AO Advocates was fully incorporated into McAllister Olivarius, and so Ann’s work in this area continues. She has assisted over 1,000 British survivors of child sexual abuse, winning substantial sums for many clients and helping them on their individual paths to recovery. Ann has also brought cases in the US against churches and companies that permitted or aided abuse of children in other countries, including Ireland, China, Romania and Saudi Arabia.
After her early experience expanding Title IX to protect university students from sexual harassment, Ann has brought scores of cases in the educational sector, frequently challenging universities that have failed to protect students from sexual harassment, misconduct and rape. In the US, Ann has had cases involving Yale, Columbia, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, Mount Sinai Medical School, the University of Miami, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Rochester, Marygrove College, MIT and other universities. In England, Ann has challenged harassment at Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, University College London, Wrexham Glyndwr University, de Montfort University, Plymouth University and others. Her work was instrumental in getting University College London, followed by other universities, to stop requiring women to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their settlements.