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.

 

Would the Framers’ Allow Signs that Create a Disturbance?

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, a proponent of U.S. President Donald Trump, has adopted a “code of conduct” for a planned  town meeting  tomorrow at the  Mesa Convention Center, near Phoenix.

It is likely that some people in Sen.Flake’s district are upset with his support of Trump’s agenda, particularly that part of the agenda which threatens reasonable labor protections,  meaningful health care for all, and environmental regulations that may just save the world for one more generation. It’s even possible that things will get uncomfortable for Sen. Flake, a former executive director of the Goldwater Institute.

So. Sen. Flake, who was elected to the Senate in 2013, has published a code of conduct for the meeting that contains the following provisions:

  • “Attendees with signs, banners or objects that create a disturbance will not be admitted.”
  • “To ensure a safe, enjoyable, and productive town hall, all attendees must comply with posted and audible instructions and failure to comply will result in immediate removal.”
  • “Constituents may begin to park or line up on the property one hour before the program begins. Doors will open an hour before the program begins.”

A progressive feminist nitpicker might find fault with Sen. Flake’s code of conduct. For one thing, the code seems designed to limit the speech of Sen. Flake’s critics.  It is not likely that he is concerned about signage that applauds his performance in office.

The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has  ruled that political signs are entitled to free speech protection under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The government cannot impose “content-based regulations” on political speech. For example, the government cannot decide that signs which approve of the government are admissible but signs that express displeasure about the government are not admissible. The Court  also says it is perfectly okay if free speech creates a disturbance.

In addition, would the original framers of the U.S. Constitution deny citizens admission to a town hall meeting because they carried signs that were critical of government?

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.

Fix the ‘Blacklisting’ Rule

President Donald Trump has officially revoked  the so-called “Blacklisting” executive order that was signed by former President Barack H. Obama in 2014 to encourage federal contractors to obey labor laws.

That’s a shame.  It’s smart public policy to save federal tax dollars by encouraging voluntary compliance with federal law. However, in truth, Obama’s executive order was needlessly flawed and arguably unconstitutional..

As written, the blacklisting rule required contractors seeking federal contracts over $500,000 to report both alleged labor violations and adjudicated violations to federal agencies. Federal agencies could then use the information  to award future contracts, cancel existing contracts, and potentially demand remedial action to address a pattern of violations.

It should be obvious even to a high school student that the federal government can’t penalize a contractor that is merely accused of a labor law violation. What if the contractor is innocent? Contractors have a right to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution. [Read more…]