Fox News: The Cost of Sexual Harassment

Fox News has gone from being the stolid and leading voice of conservatism in the United States to a network wracked with turmoil.

This week, it was announced that Fox  is losing it’s leading on-air female personality, Megyn Kelly, 46, who is moving to NBC. Her 9 p.m. show, “Kelly File,” was the second-highest rated in cable news. Kelly reportedly eschewed an offer from Fox for more than $20 million per year to extend her contract and stay.

Fox’s turmoil began last Fall when its parent company, 21st Century Fox, paid $20 million to former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson to settle a sexual harassment suit filed against Roger Ailes, 76, who led the Fox News network for 20 years. Since then, more than 20 former and current female employees at Fox News, including Kelly, came forward to complain about sexual harassment by Ailes dating back to the 1960s.

Whether or not sexual harassment spurred Kelly’s departure, it played a role in destabilizing the network and made Fox appear vulnerable to other networks in search of top talent.

Clearly, 21st Century Fox was the major loser in this debacle.

At the end of the day, 21st Century Fox’s losses will be staggering.

Ailes left the network with a $40 million golden parachute.  The company lost Kelly and the revenue from her popular cable news show. Fox paid $20 million to Carlson to settle her lawsuit (even though it technically was not even a defendant) and Fox has paid an untold amount to other alleged sexual harassment victims. Perhaps the worst loss suffered by Fox involves it’s most valuable asset – its reputation as a company aligned with traditional American values of decency, civility and respect.

And all that is as it should be. An employer is legally responsible for providing workers with a safe workplace free from bullying and harassment. This blog has long argued that employers that ignore or tolerate a climate of workplace bullying invite, among other things, unnecessary turnover and costly lawsuits. At its core, sexual harassment is a form of workplace bullying. Fox appears to have put anti-harassment policies in place but failed to insure these policies were actually implemented.

Meanwhile, like most abusers,Ailes insists upon his innocence and has not even apologized to Fox.  And, despite wreaking havoc at Fox, Ailes reportedly serves as an adviser to President-Elect Donald Trump, himself a former owner of the Miss Universe Organization who has treated women in a manner that can be charitably described as boorish. (What could go wrong with this scenario?)

Bloomberg Articles on Age Discrimination in Employment

I am excited to be quoted in a series of excellent articles addressing the problem of age discrimination in employment published today by Bloomberg’s Daily Labor Report.

The main article, by Patrick Dorrian, J.D., is Talkin’ ‘Bout All Generations: Workplace Age Diversity Lacking. It touches upon themes that I have explored  in my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace,  and in this blog and my other blog devoted exclusively to age discrimination. These themes include actions by the Obama administration and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez that have encouraged age discrimination in hiring, both in the federal government (our nations largest employer) and nationwide.

A second article, Many Wrinkles in Age Diversity, addresses how age discrimination uniquely and negatively effects women both when they are in the workplace and later, when they are living in poverty or near poverty on Social Security.

It is encouraging to see a national media outlook address these real problems that have affected millions of older Americans for years – problems that have been unaddressed even by supposed advocates for this population group.

Ultimately, nothing will or can change until Americans become aware of the prevalence and consequences of irrational and harmful age discrimination in employment which, by the way, they subsidize through their tax dollars in higher social welfare costs.

Thumbs up to Bloomberg!

Appeals Court Rules Job Applicants Can’t Sue for Systemic Age Discrimination

A federal appeals court has ruled that job applicants cannot sue an employer under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act for promulgating policies and practices that discriminate in hiring on the basis of age.

The ruling is a major setback for victims of age discrimination in hiring, which for years has been widespread, overt and unaddressed.

The full 11th Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta, in a ruling dated Oct. 5, ruled the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 “makes it clear that an applicant for employment cannot sue an employer for disparate impact because the applicant has no “status as an employee.’” The ruling overturns an earlier 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel holding that the ADEA permits older job applicants to sue for age discrimination in hiring. The 11th circuit has jurisdiction over cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

The ruling graphically illustrates the lack of protection afforded to older workers compared to victims of other types of employment discrimination. Job applicants are permitted to file so-called disparate impact lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin.

The ruling came in the case of Richard M. Villarreal who, beginning at age 49, applied seven times over the Internet for a position as a territory manager at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.   He was never hired and he was never told why his applications were rejected.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling deprives older job applicants of a way to counter modern-day age discrimination in hiring, including the use of covert Internet screening tools.

After being contacted by a whistle blower, a  law firm told Villarreal that Reynolds had contracted with two recruiting firms to develop internet screening tools to target young job applicants for hire and screen out applicant having eight to ten years of experience.

Villarreal filed suit in 2010 against Reynolds and a staffing firm, Pinstripe, Inc., alleging disparate treatment and disparate impact discrimination.

The disparate treatment theory requires the plaintiff to prove the employer engaged in intentional age discrimination whereas the disparate impact theory argues the employer adopted a seemingly neutral policy or practice that had a disproportionate and adverse impact upon older job applicants. The plaintiff is not required to show intentional discrimination under the disparate impact theory.

Villarreal’s case now hangs by a thin thread.

The appeal’s court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of Villarreal’s disparate treatment claim because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired. The Court agreed that Villarreal failed to exercise “diligence’ because he did not ask Reynolds why he was not hired in 2007. The appeals court remanded the case back to the lower court so Villarreal could pursue a  “continuing-violation” theory that would render his 2007 claim timely.

The appeals court said the ADEA does not permit job applicants to use the so-called disparate impact theory, which challenges company-wide employment policies and practices that adversely affect older job applicants. The court refused to defer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s argument that the ADEA does permit disparate impact lawsuits “because we do not defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute when the text is clear.”

The ruling eliminates any means of redress for thousands of older job applicants who applied for positions at Reynolds only to have their applications diverted into a digital trash can sight unseen.

The case is Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 15-10602,(11th Cir.).

Federal Courts Protect Big Law Firms From Competition

justice-scale-761665_1The sad reality is that most victims of illegal employment discrimination have no realistic means of redress.

This is because our court system is absurdly antiquated and has not changed appreciably since it declared itself the place where the buck stops in Marbury v. Madison (1803).

Victims of employment discrimination who are poor or middle class often can’t find an attorney who will take their case because the cost is too high in light of the potential damages. And they can’t effectively represent themselves because federal and state courts have adopted obscure and unnecessary rules and procedures that seem to be designed to keep them out.

There is virtually no public acknowledgement of this problem because apparently it is too complicated or un-glamorous for mainstream media.

I would like to applaud the heroic efforts of an organization that is trying to change this sorry state of affairs – the National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdictional Practice (NAAMJP) of Los Angeles, CA.  The NAAMJP  has filed lawsuits in several jurisdictions challenging parochial bar admissions rules.

NAAMJP wants to ensure that, once licensed, a lawyer in good standing can practice in any state.

Repealing anti-competitive and  anti-consumer bar admission rules would increase competition among legal service providers and lower costs for consumers. 

The real reason for requiring licensed lawyers to take another state’s bar exam is to discourage them from practicing in that state. In other words, the state bar association is misusing the law to prevent competition. The defenders of the status quo are large and powerful law firms in the state who lobby the legislature and contribute to political campaigns. They are abetted by federal district court judges who want to maintain complete control over their fiefdoms.

According to the NAAMJP, lawyers in the European Union and Canada do not face the kind of  geographical licensing restrictions that are imposed upon U.S.  lawyers (and consumers).

Nevada, for example, requires out-of-state lawyers to take the entire bar exam (a two-day test) as if they had just graduated from law school. This protects a handful of large and complacent Nevada law firms from competition (particularly from California) and enables the state court system to exact high fees for each case filed by an out-of-state attorney or firm. All of this drives up the cost and availability of legal services in Nevada. This is a form of institutionalized corruption that is completely indefensible and yet continues year after year.

Lawyers from around the country regularly contact me for advice about workplace bullying and age discrimination but I cannot represent clients in Nevada because I am licensed in Pennsylvania. Who benefits?  Attorneys in Nevada who know far less about this area of the law than I do.

For anyone who is interested,  The ABA Journal has a story this month about the challenges faced by the NAAMJP  in federal courts, which thus far have shown themselves to be intent upon maintaining the current anti-consumer practices.

The NAAMJP contends that barriers to admission erected by state bar associations violate, among other things, the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association and speech.