More Self-Inflicted Wounds? Fox Hit With Race Discrimination Lawsuits

It was humming along, the major cable news network in America, raking in billions in profits.

Now Fox News  has lost (forced out) its visionary chief executive officer, Roger Ailes, and its top star,  Bill OReilly, both accused of sexual harassing female subordinates for decades.  Fox  paid  Ailes and OReilly tens of millions in severance to leave, not to mention millions in damages to their alleged victims.

And now Fox is reeling from a second wave of discrimination complaints – this time involving race discrimination. A Fox News spokesperson has denied the claims and said the network will “vigorously defend these cases.”

Two black women who worked in the Fox News payroll department, Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, filed a race discrimination lawsuit   in New York state court on March 28 alleging  that Fox Controller Judith Slater, who was fired by Fox on Feb. 28, subjected “dark-skinned employees” to racial animus.

Eleven past and present Fox workers joined the lawsuit Tuesday, complaining that they were  humiliated, paid less than white coworkers and passed over for promotions.

Kelly Wright, a two-time Emmy award winner and former long-time co-host of Fox and Friends. Wright complains that he was  “effectively sidelined” because of his race and “asked to perform the role of a ‘Jim Crow’ – the racist caricature of a Black entertainer.”

Meanwhile, Adasa Blanco, who worked in Fox News’ accounts payable department from 2005 to 2013,  filed a separate race discrimination lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. She claims Fox knew about Slater “for more than eight years and then feigned … to the media and public that it terminated her immediately upon learning that she engaged in discriminatory conduct.”

What if?

One is left to wonder what would have happened if 21st Century Fox, the owner of Fox News, had made it clear to Ailes a couple of decades ago that the company was actually serious about its anti-harassment policy? And what if 21st Century Fox had insisted that everyone, including Ailes, was required to follow that policy.

Harassment complaints often are difficult  for a company. They sometimes boil down to “he said, she said.”  When that happens, the Human Resources Department has tools in its arsenal to ferret out the truth.

At some point, for example, Fox could have commissioned a “360 degree” survey of all workers in Judith Slater’s department to ascertain whether these workers felt that they were being subjected to discriminatory animus. Corrective measures could have been put in place, including Slater’s ouster.

The saga of Fox News should serve as a wake-up call to every American employer.

If you don’t have an anti-harassment policy, you should adopt one. If you have one, you should enforce it,  from the top down.

Failure to adopt and enforce an anti-harassment policy can lead to unnecessary (and sometimes even fatal) wounds that are all the more painful because they are self-inflicted.

 

Bill O’Reilly and the Market-Driven Approach to Halting Sexual Harassment

Note: Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News on 4/19/17 after an advertiser revolt stemming from pubilcity surrounding his settlement of five sexual harassment lawsuits. “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in a statement. The departure of O’Reilly, who was Fox’s biggest money-maker, is yet another example of the devastating risk that employers take when they tolerate an abusive workplace.  More than 50 advertisers withdrew from his prime-time show, and 21st Century Fox asked a law firm to investigate a complaint from a woman who said O’Reilly dropped efforts to make her a contributor in 2013 after she turned down his invitation to visit his hotel room

In one sense,  Bill OReilly and Fox News work for the corporations that buy commercial time on”The O’Reilly Factor.” There would be no O’Reilly Factor without commercial advertising.

It is significant that  more than 20 corporate advertisers withdrew their advertising dollars from The O’Reilly Factor after the New York Times reported that Fox and O’Reilly paid $13 million to five women to settle allegations of sexual harassment.  This is evidence of a simple but effective strategy to address human rights abuses in the workplace.  Corporations promise to only purchase products from employers that maintain highly ethical, humane standards in the workplace.

This  “market driven model”  has been surprisingly successful in other contexts.

For example, beginning in 2011, members of the Fair Food Standards Council,  including McDonald’s and Walmart, pledged to only buy tomatoes from farm growers who implement a human rights-based code of conduct that is monitored and enforced by the Council.  Judge Laura Safer Espinoza a retired New York State Supreme Court justice who is director of the Council, told the EEOC in 2015 that the market-driven model had  in “four short years” ended decades of impunity for perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual violence Florida’s tomato growing industry.

It probably won’t take four years to change the environment at Fox News. Former CEO Roger Ailes was ousted from his job last summer amid lawsuits and allegations of sexual harassment and now O’Reilly is on the hot seat.  Fox would be less than shrewd if it was not addressing what appears to be a toxic top-down culture at Fox.

According to CNN, the following companies have withdrawn their commercial advertising dollars from The O’Reilly Factor: Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW of North America, Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus, Constant Contact, Bayer, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, Orkin, Untuckit, Allstate, Esurance, T. Rowe Price, , Sanofi, Credit Karma, Wayfair, TrueCar, the Society for Human Resource Management and The Wonderful Company. They all pulled ads from the O’Reilly Factor, though most of their advertising dollars were moved to other programs on the network.  British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc said it was temporarily suspending its advertising on the Fox channel.

O’Reilly may survive because”The O’Reilly Factor” is Fox News’ most watched program, averaging four million viewers.  But if more corporations follow the example of GlaxoSmithKline and withdraw their advertising dollars altogether from Fox in reaction to the station’s sexual harassment problem,  O’Reilly may find himiself out of a job.

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. [Read more…]

Outfoxed: Carlson Settles for $20 Million & Apology

Former Fox News Anchor Gretchen Carlson  has received among the largest payouts in history  – $20 million – to settle a sexual harassment case.

Ironically, the case was settled not by the defendant, former Fox News chairperson Roger Ailes, but by his former employer, 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox news.  Ailes, 76, won’t pay a dime. (Not only that,  Ailes received a $40 million payout from Fox when he left his job under pressure in July.)

It is speculated Tuesday that Carlson, a former Miss America,  secretly tape recorded Ailes, whom she alleged refused to renew her contract after she refused to have sexual relations with  him.

The largest sexual harassment award in history is believed to have occurred in 2011 when a federal jury in Tennessee awarded $95 million to Ashley Alford, a young employee who was  sexual  harassed and physically assaulted by a supervisor  at the rent-to-own company, The Aaron’s Inc. The award included $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. U.S. District Court Judge J.  Michael Reagan subsequently reduced  the amount the jury awarded Alford on the sexual harassment claim from $4 million to $300,000 pursuant to a federal statutory cap. on damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Judge Reagan also vacated $50 million of the punitive damages award. That still left Alford with about $41 million.

In addition to the monetary award, 21st Century Fox issued a press release stating:  “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was no treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”

Meanwhile, two other women at Fox reportedly were offered settlements after complaining about sexual harassment.

Carlson’s complaint appears to have prompted the sudden departure of Fox personality Greta Van Susteren from the network on Tuesday. Susteren had publicly defended Ailes and accused Carlson of retaliating against Ailes after  being fired due to poor ratings.

Carlson received little support generally from her former Fox colleagues. In addition to Van Susteren, more than a dozen top personalities at Fox News including Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto and Kimberly Guilfoyle defended Ailes against claims of sexual misconduct.