Readers have probably heard by now about the legal troubles surrounding Fox News network regarding accusations of sexual harassment. Those accusations, directed against former network CEO Roger Ailes, have reportedly resulted in several settlements with female employees of the company, one of whom is former anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson’s allegations, which were leveled in July, precipitated the resignation of Ailes two weeks later. Not much is known of the multimillion dollar settlement, but sources say the evidence against Ailes was significant. Carlson had reportedly been recording meetings with Ailes on her cell phone for some time and obtained numerous damning statements. None of this information comes from Carlson herself, who signed a confidentiality agreement, but from a person familiar with the settlement.
One interesting aspect of Carlson’s lawsuit against Fox News is that she did not sue for sexual harassment per se, but for retaliation. Ailes’ alleged retaliation against Carlson after she refused his unwanted sexual advances and complained of the culture of sexual harassment at the network put her career into a downslide, she complained. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal employment discrimination laws, had also sued the network based on retaliation in her case.
Carlson specifically filed her lawsuit in state court, citing the violation of a New York City retaliation statute that does not require proof of “materially adverse action” on the part of an employer. Being that the case settled, it isn’t entirely clear how it would have played out in court, though the lack of requirement for materially adverse action would have given her an edge in the case. It is likely, had the case gone to court, that the network’s basis for not renewing her contract could have been a disputed issue, as it often is.
The litigation strategy a former employee pursues in a sexual harassment lawsuit can be critical to the outcome of the case, of course. Those who feel they have been subjected to sexual harassment-based retaliation in the workplace should always work with an experienced attorney to build the strongest possible case and consider all the options at their disposal, including settlement.
The New York Times, “Fox Settles With Gretchen Carlson Over Roger Ailes Sex Harassment Claims,” John Koblin & Michelle M. Grynbaum, Sept. 6. 2016.
Hollywood Reporter, “What a Prior Fox News Discrimination Suit Shows About Roger Ailes and Proving Retaliation,” Eriq Gardner, July 7, 2016.