Fox News doesn’t want to fight Andrea Tantaros in the civil justice system. In response to a sexual harassment suit filed by the Fox News host last week, the leading cable news outlet is asking the New York state Supreme Court to push the case into a shadowy proceeding under the control of the American Arbitration Association (AAA). “After shopping her supposed harassment story directly to the media without much success, she decided simply to ignore her obligation to proceed in arbitration, just as she ignored her other contractual commitments at Fox News, leading to her suspension,” reads the motion drafted by attorney David Garland, who is representing Fox News and executives Dianne Brandi, Irena Briganti, Suzanne Scott and Bill Shine. All this legal-eagling comes weeks after Fox News chief Roger Ailes sustained a stunning lawsuit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, an event that prompted several other women to come forward with similar stories.
Claiming that Tantaros’s lawsuit is littered with “falsehoods,” the motion from Fox News insists that the host violated her contract when she allegedly failed to properly notify Fox News about her impending book “Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable.” The volume comes complete with this cover depiction of Tantaros:
The rope apparently bothered the folks at Fox News. “Tantaros had written a book called ‘Tied Up in Knots…How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable’ in which she appears on the cover in a submissive and sexualized position with her arms tied over her head.” The higher-ups at Fox News, argues the motion, never received the cover art or the manuscript for approval, as required in Tantaros’s contract. Tantaros’s entertainment lawyer, Joseph C. Cane Jr., “denied in conclusory terms that Tantaros had breached her Agreement and alleged, among other things, that Tantaros feared for her personal safety when she observed unidentified persons on the set of her show, that a female colleague had threatened her, and that four men, whom she identified, had sexually harassed her,” notes the motion, adding that Ailes was not among those four men. Note: Ailes is not among those who are represented by Garland in this motion. “Fox News has all but acknowledged that Roger Ailes did sexually harass Andrea Tantaros because its lawyers are representing every defendant in the suit other than Roger Ailes,” notes Judd Burstein, who is representing Tantaros in the suit. “If Mr. Ailes were innocent, Fox News would also be defending him. Instead, they have dropped him like the proverbial hot potato in the hope that his former cabal members can continue in place.”
Legal and human resources officials at Fox News investigated Tantaros’s allegations of sexual harassment, but none of the interviewees supported Tantaros’s version of events — and the men accused of this behavior denied it, according to the motion. It adds that Tantaros couldn’t recall specific instances of harassment. On April 25, Fox News suspended Tantaros with pay for failure to comply with the book provisions of her contract. The publication date was April 26. A couple of weeks later, Fox News filed an arbitration demand with the AAA over Tantaros’s alleged violations — a demand that Tantaros hasn’t answered, according to the motion.
On Aug. 22, Tantaros filed her sexual harassment suit against Ailes, Fox News and various executives — alleging that Ailes had objectified her and said creepy things about colleagues in her presence. Her fall from grace at the cable network, she claims, followed her “rebuffing of Ailes’s sexual harassment,” alleged Tantaros’s complaint, which was drafted by Burstein. Today’s motion from Garland, however, asserts an alternative reality: “Tantaros suggests that her suspension for ignoring her employment obligations in connection with publishing a book was a pretext in retaliation for her complaints of supposed sexual harassment,” notes Garland’s motion. “The opposite is true: Tantaros’s allegations about sexual harassment are a smokescreen to obscure her violation of her employment contract.”
In addition to this essential lawyering, the motion attacks Tantaros as a “wannabe”; it calls the allegations in her suit “racist” and “derogatory”; and insists that “Tantaros’s entirely gratuitous attacks on her former
colleagues reveals more about her than about them.” Also: It says that the internal investigation of Ailes’s conduct under the auspices of New York law firm Paul, Weiss responded to a message from Cane about her case. He didn’t call back, according to the motion. (Burstein challenges this version of events. )
And here is the quintessentially Fox News kicker to all of the foregoing: “The Fox Defendants will respond to Tantaros’s falsehoods…at the AAA arbitration.”
Thus the spirit of Roger Ailes prevails at Fox News. Though the network chief was ousted as a result of the sexual harassment complaints against him, his record of paranoia and insistence on secrecy permeate this particular legal document. Check that — it’s a PR document with a legal component. “It’s got a lot more hallmarks of being written by the PR people than by the lawyers,” says Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice and a sworn opponent of arbitration clauses. The document certainly takes away any gripe from Fox News that it’s Andrea Tantaros who’s engaging in a media play. After all, the motion takes various ad hominem shots at Tantaros and then declares at the end that we’ll resolve the nitty-gritty behind closed doors in a proceeding that the public will never, ever glimpse. “It’s striking how they want to try case in public by making various allegations about her but don’t want to publicly sort out the truth or falsity of what they’re saying,” says Bland. “I think this is a really hypocritical brief.” Of course, the Fox Newsers could always accept Tantaros’s lie detector challenge.
The Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal has embarrassed his onetime employer. Former colleague after former colleague has come forth with details about how he purportedly grabbed buttocks and even dragged one former employee through decades of psychological and sexual torment. Now Fox News is on record as blasting one of these claims. Why not let it play out before the public? “If all the stuff they’re saying is true, then they should be excited to take this case to court,” says Bland. Transparency is a Fox News value only when it relates to the failings of Hillary Clinton, President Obama and their ilk.