As outlined in the complaint, Falzone drew a lot of traffic for FoxNews.com with her programs “In the Zone,” “Four4Four Entertainment,” “Four4Four Science” and others. Her reports on FoxNews.com in 2016, it says, were “viewed/visited more than 65 million times — more online visits than Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly or Sean Hannity.” Colleagues called her the “Face of FoxNews.com,” according to the suit. After her supervisors pulled her from programming, Falzone heard from colleagues “who either said or suggested that she must have done very bad things in order to have earned this lifetime ban,” reads the complaint. It sought a range of compensatory damages, punitive damages and fees.
Asked about the settlement, Nancy Erika Smith, the New Jersey employment attorney representing Falzone, responded, “the matter has been settled and Ms. Falzone is no longer with Fox News.”
Such outcomes are, by this point, so rote that it is easy to let them pass without remark. But let’s do a slow-motion review of the allegations in this case. An employee of Fox News was doing her job, day in and day out; there is an ample video archive to prove it. Then she writes about “an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus,” according to the Mayo Clinic. The next thing she know, she’s twiddling her thumbs at her desk — and facing difficulties getting an answer from supervisors. “For several days . . . Falzone attempted, without success, to get an explanation for why she was being humiliated and her career was being sabotaged,” notes the complaint. “Instead of giving her an explanation, Falzone’s supervisor suggested that she look for another job, confirming that the management of Fox News had no intention of ever reinstating her to her former position.”
• Lis Wiehl, perhaps the sharpest legal analyst on television news, announced: “After 15 years on the air as a legal analyst for Fox News, I have decided to leave Fox to devote myself to my writing and other pursuits,” she wrote in an email to colleagues in January 2017. That was after she settled with then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly for $32 million over sexual harassment claims. He stuck around for a few more months, until the full extent of his workplace depravity hit the pages of the New York Times.
• Juliet Huddy left her job with a Fox affiliate station in September 2016 upon reaching a settlement over O’Reilly’s behavior.
• Gretchen Carlson was fired in June 2016 — after sustaining demotions for voicing complaints, her lawyer said at the time — before filing her historic suit against then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
• Tamara Holder, a former Fox News contributor who left the network in January 2017, reached a settlement with Fox News the following February over an allegation that an executive had forced her to perform oral sex two years previously. According to the New York Times, Holder didn’t report the incident at the time because she feared “that doing so would ruin her career.”
Some important caveats here: The problem in which women seek redress for sexual harassment or discrimination and lose their jobs in the process isn’t limited to Fox News by any means. It happens at other media organizations and other industries. Months of reporting on places like CBS News, the New Republic, ABC News, NPR and others have exposed how corporate structures and traditions protect highly paid men and treat women as expendable. Furthermore: Fox News has taken steps to remedy the way in which it handles sexual-harassment claims and other workplace disputes, most notably with a completely revamped human resources department with new leadership.
Though she couldn’t address the case of Falzone, Smith did speak generically about how complainants quite often end up jobless. The process starts with a letter to the employer expressing a wish to “fix” things. “And the company, right out of the box, says, ‘Obviously she’s not happy here, so she should leave.’ ” Citing the workplace issues in the complaint, Smith then responds, “I often say, ‘What are you talking about? Of course she’s not happy. She loves her job, though.’ Almost every client wants to keep her job.”
And almost every client loses it. “In 38 years, out of well over a thousand matters that my partner and I have handled, there have been two where the company did not require the employee to leave,” says Smith. One of them, she said, was a large telecommunications company whose lawyer met many years ago with Smith and her client over a sexual-harassment problem. After hearing their claims, the lawyer left. “He called called me later that day and said, ‘We fired him. What else do you want?’ ” Nothing, it turned out. Smith’s client just wanted to work. “That had to be 15 years ago. It stands out in my career,” recalled Smith.
Debra Katz, a partner with the employment firm Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP, says employers want to remove settlement recipients from the workplace because they view them as continuing legal liabilities. Should something unfavorable happen in the future, they fear a retaliation claim, says Katz. “People are not trying to position themselves to be litigants for life,” says Katz. “It is a rare employer who thanks the person for coming forward and says, ‘We want you to stay here and remain in this new safe and nondiscriminatory environment.’ “