Ann Olivarius’ legal career predates her admission to the bar: when she was just 22 years old, she made American legal history as a plaintiff 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. For Olivarius, the experience of fighting for women’s equality in a courtroom proved inspiring and transformative: she decided against medical school to pursue a legal career. Olivarius 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.
Olivarius grew up in New Jersey, the oldest of five daughters in a Catholic household headed by parents who never had enough money and would have preferred boys. The ambition to compete and win on male-dominated professional playing fields spurred her to join corporate America as a lawyer and financier on graduating from Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management. In those years, working at Goldman Sachs, Perot Systems and Shearman & Sterling, she became convinced of two things: that for women, money is part of the path to full equality, and that it is possible to earn good money while doing good.
In 1996, Olivarius decided to start her own legal practice: that year, McAllister Olivarius opened its doors in the United States. Three years later, in 1999, the firm moved its headquarters to London. In 2006, Olivarius invited her husband and Yale Law School classmate, Jef McAllister - who was 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 advisory work and its fearless representation of women and minorities in employment, education, and divorce, online and in the courtroom. In the last decade, Olivarius has won multi-million dollar awards for her clients in challenging cases on both sides of the Atlantic.
While the feminist thrust of McAllister Olivarius’ legal practice generates newspaper headlines, less attention is paid to the firm’s more traditional area of expertise: corporate advisory work. Thanks to Olivarius’ deep knowledge of the financial industry, her practice is adept at solving the intellectually complicated, highly individual problems that often confront companies doing business overseas, including understanding complex international asset transfers and penetrating money laundering schemes.
For Olivarius, the crux of her work is trying to help her clients achieve justice, whatever legal shape their problem might take.
When you’re a woman or person of color, excellence frequently doesn’t protect you from employers’ and colleagues’ prejudices. Olivarius specializes in representing clients who have faced discrimination and harassment at work based on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity or religion, and holding their employers to account. She excels at building cases against precisely the kind of prestigious, legally aggressive and deep-pocketed businesses she used to work for, including publicly traded companies, top investment banks and international law firms. She operates on the assumption that these businesses desire to do good in the world, but sometimes lack the necessary tools or motivation to confront the problems created by a few bad actors. Olivarius seeks, as a lawyer, to help companies live up to their best standards while vigorously advocating on behalf of clients whose rights have been violated.
After her early formative experience with the importance of Title IX in protecting university students against sexual harassment, Olivarius has brought many cases in this area, challenging universities when they have failed in their duty to protect their students from sexual harassment and campus rape. Publicly reported cases include the wrongful suspension of Professor Wendy Purcell, formerly vice-chancellor of Plymouth University; representing Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow against UCLA concerning the actions of Professor Gabriel Piterberg; Catherine Mayer against Time Magazine; Monica Morrison against the University of Miami; and a group of professors and students at the University of Rochester for a hostile work environment and retaliation concerning the behavior of Professor Florian Jaeger. Two of the plaintiffs in the University of Rochester case, Celeste Kidd and Jessica Cantlon, were named “Persons of the Year” by Time Magazine in its cover story on “Silence Breakers” in 2017. Also in 2017, the British academic journal Nature named Olivarius as one of “Nature’s 10” people who mattered in science because of her work fighting sexual harassment at universities. In addition, Olivarius has represented clients in cases against Stanford, Yale, Marygrove College and Wheelock College. After bringing cases involving professors at Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, she has also campaigned in the United Kingdom to introduce a law similar to Title IX, as the UK currently has no legislation requiring universities to have a system for responding to campus sexual harassment and sexual assaults.
In both Britain and America, the laws dealing with revenge pornography are new and changing rapidly. Olivarius was instrumental in getting Parliament to pass the UK’s first revenge pornography criminal law in April 2015. She has continued to do pioneering work in this field, representing YouTube star Chrissy Chambers, whose ex-boyfriend filmed his rape of her without her knowledge and then distributed the videos to porn sites. The man ultimately apologized to her in court and paid a substantial settlement.
Child sexual abuse
As part of her ongoing work protecting vulnerable individuals from sexual exploitation, Olivarius helped found a new firm, AO Advocates, along with the foremost American legal activist in the area, Jeff Anderson. AO Advocates focuses exclusively on bringing historic sexual abuse cases against religious and educational institutions like the Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, care homes and prestigious schools that have tolerated adults’ sex abuse of children over decades. AO Advocates has won substantial sums for many clients and, through sympathetic treatment, helped them on their individual paths to recovery.
Discrimination can come in many forms, based on gender, race, sex, sexual preference and many others. In 2017 McAllister Olivarius made headlines when representing a British-born couple of Indian origin who were victims of institutionalised racism. The couple were advised by their local adoption agency that they shouldn't apply as “only white children were available”; the implication was that their home was inherently inferior. The case has sparked a national conversation on whether racial differences should automatically disqualify prospective adoptive parents. Due to its wider importance, the case is being funded by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.