Fox News Reporters Gretchen Carlson, Andrea Tantaros File Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Fox News Sexual Harassment LawsuitsIf you are a skilled professional in a lucrative position, it may seem like sexual harassment could never happen to you. But recent lawsuits by reporters Gretchen Carlson and Andrea Tantaros against their former employer Fox News show that sexual harassment claims can happen in any industry, at any level.

In this blog post, I will review the sexual harassment complaint of Gretchen Carlson and news reports of the lawsuit of Andrea Tantaros. I will explain how sexual harassment claims can occur in any workplace, and what to do if it happens to you.

What Sexual Harassment Looks Like in Professional Spaces

When you think about sexual harassment, you may imagine a blue collar working environment filed with sexual innuendo, unwanted physical contact, and inappropriate advances. But that kind of behavior isn't limited to the shop or the assembly line. Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, even in professional spaces.

Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act prohibits all kinds of sexual harassment. At the federal level, that includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical harassment. It also includes remarks about a person's sex more generally. Before you can file a sexual harassment lawsuit under the federal law, the conduct must either result in an adverse employment decision (like firing, demotion, or refusal to hire), or amount to a pattern creating a hostile work environment.

Depending on where you live, you may be entitled to even more protection at the state and local levels. The New York City Human Rights Ordinance prohibits any discriminatory harassment or violence based on gender or sex. While verbal harassment still requires a pattern of behavior, the standard for when hostility is enough for a legal remedy is far lower.

In professional spaces and public-facing industries sexual harassment often happens behind closed doors. Forward advances are often paired with more subtle public-facing forms of discrimination, like the reassignment of duties, or dis-empowering statements. This can make it harder to show the pattern of discrimination needed to meet legal thresholds.

Gretchen Carlson's Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Fox News

In July, 2016, reporter Gretchen Carlson publicly announced she was filing a sexual harassment suit against her former employer, Fox News and its chairman Roger Ailes. The complaint, which was filed on July 6, 2016 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, outlines a pattern of sexual harassment and retaliation by Ailes and fellow coworkers. The harassment culminated in Carlson's contract not being renewed despite strong employment benchmarks. Carlson alleges that:

  • Ailes told her "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." He added "sometimes problems are easier to solve" that way.
  • Ailes described Carlson as a "man hater" and a "killer" who was trying to "show up the boys".
  • Ailes repeatedly made sexual advances toward Carlson, which she refused.
  • Ailes made inappropriate requests regarding her choices of clothing.
  • Carlson's co-host, Steve Doocy created a hostile work environment by treating her in a sexist and condescending way on and off the air.
  • After Carlson complained about Doocy's discrimination, Ailes retaliated against her by demoting her, reducing her pay, reassigning her to a less desirable time slot, assigning her fewer political interviews, and providing her less support than other reporters.
  • Carlson was ultimately fired on June 23, 2016, as a result of the discrimination and in retaliation for her complaints.

As often happens in wrongful termination cases, Fox News has stated that Carlson was fired for poor work performance. However, 21st Century Fox (the parent company for Fox News) launched an independent investigation that eventually caused Ailes to resign as chairman. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Andrea Tantaros Files Sexual Harassment Charges

Less than 6 weeks after Gretchen Carlson's case hit the press, Fox News has found itself facing a second sexual harassment lawsuit, this time by former host Andrea Tantaros in Manhattan State Supreme Court. Tantaros is suing William Shine, who took over as co-president after Ailes resigned, and other top executives. Her suit echoes many of the same allegations raised by Carlson. Her complaint states:

"Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny."

Tantaros asserts that Ailes acted with the support of many of Fox News' senior staff, who allowed Ailes to silence her and others through systematic threats, humiliation, and retaliation.

What to Do If You Are Facing Sexual Harassment at Work

All together, 7 women have come forward alleging sexual harassment claims against Ailes over the past 30 years. If it can happen in a major news organization, it can happen anywhere. But if you aren't a reporter like Carlson and Tantaros, it might be hard to know what to do about it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep a log of sexual harassment activities. Whether it is in a notebook, a computer file, or even a pad of paper, a day-by-day account of what's happening in your workplace can help show the pattern of behavior needed to make your case.
  • File formal complaints with HR. Remember that retaliation for reporting sex discrimination is prohibited under federal and local laws. Take a stand against the behavior so that your boss's bosses know what's happening.
  • Talk to a sexual harassment lawyer early. Don't let ongoing workplace hostility chase you out of a job you love. An experienced discrimination attorney can help explain your options and push for changes in supervision and policy to protect you from future harassment.

Sexual harassment can happen in any office, no matter how big or how public. But you don't have to suffer in silence. Contact our employment discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum LLC, to schedule a free consultation and let us help you find a way out.

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