The sexual harassment/retaliation lawsuit filed by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson against her former boss, Roger Ailes, features a great deal of demeaning dialogue. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” Ailes allegedly told Carlson in September 2015, according to the complaint. He also fixated on Carlson’s legs, recommended flattering outfits and otherwise built a sexually discriminatory gulag, as the lawsuit depicts things.
The filing of the complaint follows closely upon Carlson’s June 23 exit from Fox News, which declined to renew her contract. She hosted “The Real Story” afternoon show and prior to that co-hosted the popular but simply awful morning program “Fox & Friends.” The 50-year-old Carlson is also an accomplished violinist and a former Miss America.
Most of the tawdry allegations in the complaint reconstruct verbal interactions. For example: “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” Ailes once told Carlson, according to the suit.
So the Erik Wemple Blog asked Carlson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, whether there was any documentary evidence behind the story told in the complaint. “I’m very confident that we have very persuasive evidence, but we’re going to reveal the evidence in court,” responded Smith. “We have really strong evidence.”
The complaint cites Carlson’s June non-contract-renewal among the items proving that she suffered retaliation for blowing the whistle on the sexual harassment she allegedly experienced. “The termination was the culmination of a lot of retaliation,” says Smith. The lawsuit notes that, in September 2009 and September 2015, Carlson brought complaints to her supervisor and to Ailes, respectively. Were these written complaints addressed to the appropriate executives at Fox News? “We are confident that she followed the policy and went to executives high up to describe what she was suffering, and they did nothing and we have good evidence,” says Smith.
Did Fox News ever launch an investigation pursuant to Carlson’s complaints? No, according to Smith. Did Carlson ever get an explanation of why her complaints weren’t acted upon? “Nope,” responds Smith. Draw your own conclusions about the independence of the HR function at Fox News.
Fox News is a closed environment. The interaction of employees with the media is carefully regulated, as it is at other TV networks. It’s unfortunate that it takes these circumstances — the departure of a female employee — to get a look at the goings-on in the corridors. We asked Smith about the triggering circumstances for the lawsuit: “It’s not easy to change [to another network] after being on Fox News,” says Smith, citing a paucity of “high-profile” television-hosting opportunities, “especially for women. Would she have brought a claim even if they hadn’t fired her? Probably. No, she did not choose to quit her job because she was a victim of retaliation and harassment.” No woman should ever have to do such a thing, says Smith. “She stayed there because she’s a journalist and she worked hard to get there.”
“If she were a man, she’d have another 20-25 years ahead of her” in her TV career, says Smith.
Fox News has yet to return inquiries about this story.
Update: Here’s the statement from Ailes:
Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.