The lawsuit filed by Diana Falzone differs from the sort of workplace concern we’ve learned to expect from female employees of Fox News over the past year. It doesn’t allege sexual harassment; it doesn’t claim that some old man tried to leverage authority for favors; there’s no mention of a dress code or requests to “spin.”
It merely alleges barbarism at the headquarters of Fox News.
For four-and-a-half years, claims the complaint, Falzone worked happily and industriously in a digital position at FoxNews.com. Her platforms may not be familiar to Fox News tube watchers; “In the Zone,” “Four4Four Entertainment,” “Four4Four Science” and others — those were among the programs she worked on. Colleagues would refer to her as the “Face of FoxNews.com,” according to the suit. She appeared from time to time, too, on televised programs at the company, including “Fox & Friends Weekend” and “Hannity.”
FoxNews.com is a backwater at Fox News non-dot-com. Roger Ailes, the founder of the network who was ousted last summer in a sexual-harassment scandal, didn’t pay the web much heed. “About new media Ailes knows very little and has never wanted to learn much,” noted critic Frank Rich a few years ago. “… He wisecracked that Fox News was not in business to ‘tell people to turn off their television set and go to their computer to get more information.’ ”
So perhaps Falzone worked under a regime of benign neglect in her digital hive. In any case, in January she wrote a story under the headline, “Women should never suffer in silence.” The subject matter is a touch more grave than neighboring posts such as “8 reality stars who have fallen the furthest” and “Josh and Anna Duggar deny divorce rumors.” In the story, Falzone discussed her struggle with endometriosis, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus.”
Pain is confirmed in Falzone’s first-person account. “I suddenly became very ill. I was bleeding heavily; I had an intense pain on my right side,” writes Falzone of her first bout with the disorder. The malady struck on what was otherwise a great day at work — in February 2016 — when she was working on an “Animal Planet” segment on cute puppies. Her endometriosis piece went viral, according to Falzone’s complaint, and carried the approval of her supervisors, Refet Kaplan and Chris Kensler. It hadn’t been publicly known that Falzone suffered from endometriosis.
All good, right? Not quite. Not long after the Jan. 24, 2017, essay hit the Internet, Falzone some alarming news. From that point onward, said Kaplan, she was “permanently banned from ever appearing on air on any FoxNews.com, Fox News Network, Fox Business News Network [sic] or any other Fox News medium and would never again be permitted to host her own shows or conduct her own interviews.” Such instructions, claims the suit, came from the “second floor,” which is where Fox News suits reside — specifically, co-presidents Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine, the latter of whom left the network earlier this week over his proximity to the excesses of the Ailes regime.
If the foregoing sounds bad, what follows is worse. A colleague announced to a group of employees, in Falzone’s absence, that she would disappear as a face on her usual platforms. No explanation, according to the suit, accompanied that disclosure, “leaving employees with the false impression that Falzone had done something terribly wrong.” A supervisor told Falzone that she should seek a new job; she filed a complaint with the company but did not secure reinstatement to her previous responsibilities.
Falzone’s legal action takes direct aim at what went down here: “The male-dominated senior management of Fox News obviously objected to the fact that a female on-air host had disclosed that she suffers from a women’s reproductive health condition, which, in their eyes, detracted from her sex appeal and made her less desirable.” A male colleague, says the suit, told her that management didn’t want women talking about this kind of material.
Show your legs, in other words, but don’t mention your ovaries, your uterus, your bleeding. As did Falzone. “The symptoms can be intense and life-altering: debilitating pain, cramps, menstruation that lasts more than a week, bowel and urinary disorders and infertility. Some women, however, have no sign of the disease and it’s not until they try in vain to conceive a child that silent endometriosis (asymptomatic endo) is discovered,” she wrote in her article.
Nexis offers some support for the suggestion that Fox News management doesn’t want to talk about biology. A search for “menstrual” over the past five years yields 92 results for CNN, 14 for MSNBC and two for Fox News. For “ovaries,” the results are similar: CNN, 87; MSNBC, 12; Fox News, five. “The more we talk about women’s health issues, the sooner we will get to finding cures and better treatment options,” wrote Falzone in her story.
Meanwhile, as the suit notes, Fox News has allowed its guys — Neil Cavuto, for example — to discuss health issues on air.
The fossil record also appears to support the contentions in the Falzone suit. Prior to her endometriosis essay, Falzone’s stories commonly included embedded videos in which she narrates the news at hand. Subsequent to the essay, her productivity takes a dive: very little in February, nothing in March and a solitary post in April. “She has not recorded anything or done anything live or done any voice-overs since Jan. 27. Anything on air is old,” notes Nancy Erika Smith, Falzone’s lawyer. Her posting tempo has picked up since she filed suit earlier this week.
We have asked Fox News to forward any links or stories or videos that contradict the allegations in the suit. Nothing yet.
Falzone is suing over gender discrimination and discrimination based on disability. She’s seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Maybe that’s because appropriate recompense for this level of alleged barbarity is hard to specify.