Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has filed a lawsuit against the network’s chairman and chief executive, Roger Ailes, alleging that he fired her in retaliation for rebuffing his sexual advances.
Carlson, 50, who co-hosted the “Fox & Friends” morning program and later an afternoon news show on Fox, was dropped by the network June 23 when her contract expired.
She alleges that her contract was not renewed because she challenged unequal treatment of women at Fox. She also alleges that Ailes, 76, suggested that they have a sexual relationship during a meeting last year to discuss Carlson’s complaints, according to her lawsuit.
Carlson, a former Miss America, had been at Fox News for 11 years.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Ailes said Carlson’s lawsuit is “not only offensive, but it is wholly without merit” and said that low ratings led to her dismissal. Separately, Fox News also issued a statement defending Ailes and Steve Doocy, the “Fox & Friends” co-host the complaint accuses of mistreating her: “The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”
In a suit filed Wednesday in superior court in Bergen County, N.J., Carlson alleges that Ailes “unlawfully retaliated” against her and “sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
“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,” the complaint says Ailes told Carlson last September when she complained to him. He allegedly added, “Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way.”
Carlson was a prominent figure at Fox; she interviewed many newsmakers, including President Obama, President George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
But she said she was regularly discriminated against by the network; she cited one instance in September when her co-host, Doocy, grabbed her arm on air and attempted to “shush” her during a live telecast.
The complaint says Doocy “engaged in a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” of Carlson, such as belittling her during commercial breaks and “generally attempting to put her in place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blond female prop.”
It alleges that Ailes responded to her complaints by calling her a “man hater” and “killer” and telling her she needed “to get along with the boys.”
In response to Carlson’s complaints, Ailes allegedly reassigned her from the highly rated “Fox & Friends” to a one-hour news show at 2 p.m., a lesser time slot, and reduced her compensation. He also allegedly denied her high-profile interviews and kept her off other Fox programs, such as the top-rated “O’Reilly Factor.”
Ailes allegedly dismissed her complaints at the time by telling her not to get offended “so goddamn easy about everything.”
According to the complaint, he “ogled” her in his office and asked her to turn around so he could view her posterior; suggested that she wear certain outfits to show off her figure; commented “repeatedly” about her legs; and said that if he could choose one person to be stranded on a desert island with, it would be Carlson.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages but does not specify any figures.
Carlson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said in an interview that Carlson did not go public with her complaints because she sought to resolve them internally. Carlson doesn’t mention any instances of harrassment in her 2015 memoir, “Getting Real,” because Fox had approval over the book, Smith said.
Carlson was told she was not being renewed at the network on June 23 after 11 years, Smith said. The conversation, with an executive Smith did not identify, took less than one minute, the attorney said.
In a statement released by her attorneys, Carlson said, “I have strived to empower women and girls throughout my entire career. Although this was a difficult step to take, I had to stand up for myself and speak out for all women and the next generation of women in the workplace. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments at Fox News and for keeping our loyal viewers engaged and informed on events and news topics of the day.”
Allegations of discrimination have irregularly popped up at Fox News, most notably an accusation by a former producer of “The O’Reilly Factor,” Andrea Mackris, who accused host Bill O’Reilly of a harrassing her in a series of phone-sex conversations. The suit was settled in 2004.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Fox News twice, first in 2005 on behalf of an advertising employee, Kim Weiler, who said she was harrassed by an executive, and in 2010 on behalf of reporter Catherine Herridge, who said she was the victim of gender and age discrimination. Fox News settled in the Weiler case, and the Herridge suit was dismissed.
While an executive at NBC, Ailes was accused of making sexually suggestive comments to various female underlings, according to a 2014 biography of Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” A young woman named Randi Harrison said Ailes offered to her increase her salary by $100 a week if she would have sex with him, according to the book. A producer named Shelly Ross said Ailes posed “romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance.” Ross said she told him, “This is making me uncomfortable.”
Ailes also made disparaging remarks in a radio interview in 1994 about the appearances of Mary Matalin and Jane Wallace, who were hosts at CNBC under Ailes, according to the book.
Smith, Carlson’s attorney, said she intended to call other women who have alleged harrassment by Ailes to testify at Carlson’s trial. Fox was not named as a party to the lawsuit, Smith said, because “to our knowledge, the alleged harrassment wasn’t authorized by Fox. In fact, [Fox] has policies that prohibit this kind of behavior.”
Carlson’s allegations are false and retaliatory, Ailes’s statement this week said, “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.” It continued: “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.”