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Former Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson Accuses Roger Ailes Of Harassment In Lurid Detail

Gretchen Carlson

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News head Roger Ailes, complete with all the lurid details you’d expect in such a case:

Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, was accused on Wednesday of forcing out a prominent female anchor after she refused his sexual advances and complained to him about persistent harassment in the newsroom, a startling accusation against perhaps the most powerful man in television news.

In a lawsuit, the anchor, Gretchen Carlson, a longtime Fox employee who left the network last month, portrays Mr. Ailes as a loutish and serial sexual harasser, accusing him of ogling her in his office, calling her “sexy,” and describes a boys’ club environment at the network.

Her charges — including the accusation that Mr. Ailes explicitly asked Ms. Carlson for a sexual relationship during a meeting in his office — amounted to an almost unprecedented public attack on Mr. Ailes, a towering figure in media and Republican politics who typically enjoys absolute loyalty from his employees.

Late Wednesday, the parent company of Fox News, 21st Century Fox, issued a measured statement, saying it had “full confidence” in Mr. Ailes, but had initiated an internal review of Ms. Carlson’s charges. “We take these matters seriously,” the company said.

Mr. Ailes, in a separate statement, was far less temperate. “Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false,” he wrote. “This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract,” which he attributed to ratings he called “disappointingly low.”

He added: “This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”

The suit arrives at a complex moment for Mr. Ailes, who is facing new challenges to the television empire that he has overseen, with near-total control and huge success, for two decades.

While he retains the support of his corporate boss, Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Ailes, 76, has sometimes clashed with Mr. Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, who have ascended to the most senior leadership roles at the company.

(…)

Ms. Carlson, 50, filed her lawsuit in Superior Court in New Jersey, where Mr. Ailes maintains a residence. She contends that during a meeting last fall to discuss her concerns that she was being treated unfairly, Mr. 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.”

When she rebuffed him, the lawsuit claims, Mr. Ailes retaliated by reducing Ms. Carlson’s salary, curtailing her on-air appearances and, to her surprise, declining to renew her contract last month.

Ms. Carlson’s suit, filed by the law firm Smith Mullin of Montclair, N.J., names Mr. Ailes as the sole defendant and seeks a variety of compensatory damages. Her lead lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said in an interview that Ms. Carlson’s grievance was with Mr. Ailes personally, not the Fox network.

“We were considering taking action before she was terminated,” Ms. Smith said. “The firing sort of pulled the trigger for us.”

Mr. Ailes is known as a fierce public relations warrior who can be ruthless with enemies. Ms. Carlson can be self-deprecating on air, but she is working with a formidable team: Ms. Smith once brought a sexual harassment suit against a former acting governor of New Jersey, and Ms. Carlson’s husband, Casey Close, is a powerful sports agent known for tenacious negotiating on behalf of clients like Derek Jeter.

Ms. Smith, the lawyer, said that several women had contacted her saying they had similar experiences with Mr. Ailes, although she declined to name them. A 2014 biography of Mr. Ailes, by the journalist Gabriel Sherman, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” recounted an episode in the 1980s, when Mr. Ailes was at NBC, involving a woman named Randi Harrison who said he offered her an extra $100 a week in salary in exchange for having sex with him “whenever I want.” (Fox News denied the claim at the time; Ms. Harrison corroborated the account in a phone interview on Wednesday.)

Ms. Carlson joined Fox News in 2005. In her suit, Ms. Carlson, who once walked off a Fox set as her co-anchors made jokes about women, portrays a culture at the network where casual sexism is tolerated, part of a broader Ailes news aesthetic of bombastic coverage and physically attractive talent.

Taken on their face, Carlson’s allegations put forward a classic case in which an employer demands sexual favors from a female employee and then retaliates against her when those advances are rebuffed. In this case, the retaliation would consist both in removing her from the cast of Fox & Friends, which apparently resulted in a pay cut even though she received her own show as a result, and in refusing to renew her contract, although in that case the fact that ratings were down among a key demographic could potentially stand as a defense. As is usually the case in these situations, there doesn’t appear to be any independent evidence supporting Carlson’s claims, or Ailes’ defense for that matter, so that lawsuit would essentially come down to a ‘he said, she said’ situation that often makes a case difficult for Plaintiff’s to prove even under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard that prevails in civil cases such as this. That is one reason why many cases such as this are settled privately rather than dragged through court. Whether that happens here or not remains to be seen. If the allegations are true, though, then this is likely to lead to major headaches for Ailes and his employers at Fox News, which have already been under pressure over the past year thanks to increasingly vigorous competition from CNN and MSNBC.

At first glance, there are several things unusual about the case. The first is the fact that it was filed in Bergen County, New Jersey, where Ailes lives, even though it purports to be based in violations of the New York City Human Rights Code. There’s no question that the New Jersey court has jurisdiction over the case given Ailes’ residence there, but filing a lawsuit there when the legal basis for the claim is based in New York City law is slightly odd to say the least. The suit could have also likely been filed in New York where Ailes does business, and where the Courts are arguably more familiar with the applicable law. This question of jurisdiction and venue could be the subject of pre-trial litigation. Also unusual is the fact that the lawsuit omits any claims under Federal law even though it would seem clear that the facts as alleged do give rise to a cause of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in addition to the violations of New York City law. There are also likely claims under New York state law that Carlson could take advantage of. Why these claims are not included in the lawsuit is unclear.

The final unusual thing about this lawsuit is perhaps the biggest one. Ordinarily, when a case like this is filed the primary Defendant is the employer itself. In this case, that employer would be Fox News Channel and/or its owner News Corporation, the conglomerate owned principally by Rupert Murdoch that owns Fox News. Assuming these allegations are true, when Ailes engaged in this behavior he did so as an agent of the employer and, under applicable law, the employer would be just as liable as he would be if a Judge or jury found for Carlson at the end of a trial. Perhaps the Carlson’s attorneys believe that by leaving Fox out of the lawsuit for now they can force Ailes into a settlement. Even if that logic made sense though, omitting the employer as a Defendant reduces the potential settlement value of the case significantly.

In any case, given the prominence of Ailes and Fox News in the political and media worlds, this lawsuit seems sure to have an impact going forward. As the saying goes, stay tuned.

Here’s the Complaint:

Gretchen Carlson v. Roger Ailes by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    What the heck is going on at Fox?
    They had the O’Reilly thing like this a few years back.
    Something in the water?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. grumpy realist says:

    At least, it’s an extremely embarrassing lawsuit (especially if other women reporting similar experiences) come out of the woodwork.

    Bill Cosby, anyone? A lot of squelched rumors from a lot of women who weren’t believed—until a critical mass was reached.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  3. KM says:

    @C. Clavin

    What the heck is going on at Fox?

    Culture. Corporate culture is everything; there’s probably hundreds of little incidents of harassment Gretchen Carlson suffered over the course of her decades long career but this was the bridge too far. When your employer’s in the business of making fun of feminism, women’s rights and general civilities towards over 50% of the planet, it can’t be a surprise to find out the employees take that material to heart. I’d bet everything I own there’s some real dinosaurs wandering around those offices that nobody does anything about. Can you imagine the poor HR person that has to run the mandatory harassment seminars in a room full of people who spout on about feminazis and MRA slogan on air (or write their scripts)?

    No, she most likely endured them and silently fumed over the low-key sexism. Much like with Trump, however, once the harassment was out loud and proud – it’s straw the broke the camel’s back. Lawsuit time. Too bad it had to happen to her personally to realize her employer (both the person and company) actively contribute to the national sexism problem.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 1

  4. Loviatar says:

    @KM:

    Too bad it had to happen to her personally to realize her employer (both the person and company) actively contribute to the national sexism problem.

    She is a Republican, no empathy, its part of their DNA. If it doesn’t happen to her or a close family member it didn’t happen.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 11

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s not about the money**, this is personal.

    **gretchen will soon land another 7 figure deal

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Tillman says:

    Remember all those stories about Carlson being the secretly intelligent one on Fox and Friends? Those were true, and it also turns out Steve Doocy has always been a horrible person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. EddieInCA says:

    This is one of those horribly kept secrets in Showbiz circles. Everyone, or anyone, tied into Fox News, knows about Roget Ailes and women. You can’t staff a network like Fox with the women he has and not understand that Ailes has a very specific type – and he has that type for a reason.

    I predict this lawsuit will never see the light of day and Ms. Carlson will walk away with a 8 figure payday. And she will deserve it, based on the stories I’ve heard about Ailes over the years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  8. Jc says:

    Good for her. You know that place is bad. Can anyone find a picture of one of their on air female personalities not wearing a skirt? I remember hearing that it was a requirement of the job, it was their dress code.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  9. barbintheboonies says:

    Does anyone remember how they used to remark how better looking the women are at fox Like that was a required attribute. It is all over though, women are required to look a certain way, and wear clothes and shoes that are not very sensible. Look at the men, they are able to dress comfortable and able to gain weight. Remember dear Andy Rooney how was he able to keep those crazy eyebrows, if he was a woman would that would not have been permitted without backlash. It is a competitive business and women as usual have to put up with more to get less.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. anjin-san says:

    @Tillman:

    I don’t think there has ever been any question that Carlson is a very smart woman. She was her class valedictorian in high school, graduated summa cum laude from Stanford and studied at Oxford.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I predict this lawsuit will never see the light of day and Ms. Carlson will walk away with a 8 figure payday. And she will deserve it, based on the stories I’ve heard about Ailes over the years.

    No, she won’t deserve it, because she was part of the system that for years encouraged this sort of behavior. I have no jot of sympathy for her because for years I’ve seen her systematically undermine the rights of the poor, abused and vulnerable in our society, rights that she now suddenly wants to claim for herself.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 6

  12. Rafer Janders says:

    @anjin-san:

    While smart, she played dumb on TV to endear herself and play down to the Fox audience. Remember when she pretended not to know what the word “czar” meant?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. Pch101 says:

    In other news, the show will be renamed Fox & Friends With Benefits.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  14. Andrew says:

    It is funny what we subjugate ourselves to for a paycheck. The mounds of bullsh*t we are willing to deal with.
    Being as smart as Gretchen is, I can only imagine the amount of things she had to deal with, with the meat-heads, and other entitled people she was surrounded by.

    At the end of the day, she decided that the amount she was getting paid to embarrasses herself, or to play dumb, or to put up with that part of our culture…was not enough anymore.
    I say good for her.
    I say good for her for sticking up as a woman. Gretchen knew what she was getting into when she signed up to play a dumb blonde for ratings, but a lot like most of us here. There is only so much she could take over the life of her career at FoxNews. Most likely making a case for herself when the time came around when she was no longer an Ailes employee. This is what we have now.
    Hell hath no fury…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Gustopher says:

    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.

    That is one of the weirdest propositions ever.

    Is it badly quoted Big Lebowski? It sounds like the “good and thorough” bit.

    I don’t believe Gretchen Carlson could have made that up — it’s too terrible and too weird to be made up as something to accuse someone of saying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    Yep. The ring of truth. It’s not always reliable, may not be in this case, but sure sounds right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Too bad it had to happen to her personally to realize her employer (both the person and company) actively contribute to the national sexism problem.

    With slight variations, that’s every Republican ever on race, sex, gender, gun killings. . . Call it lack of empathy or lack of imagination, they simply cannot understand things in the abstract. It’s only real when it happens to them, personally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  18. Jen says:

    @Gustopher: Agreed.

    I read a piece earlier today on The Daily Beast stating that more women have come forward (albeit anonymously, for now) and one person interviewed for the piece said this:

    This person said of Carlson, “I have a sense Gretchen was aggrieved for a very long time and probably kept very good notes. Nobody sues Roger Ailes without having their eyes wide open, unless they’re just idiots—and Gretchen is not an idiot.”

    She probably went back to her office and wrote that weird quote down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  19. grumpy realist says:

    Why the case was probably filed in New Jersey: (grabbed from TheDailyBeast article)

    Smith said that under the law of New Jersey, where Carlson’s suit was filed in Superior Court and the married Ailes owns a home in the suburb of Creskill, a sexual harassment plaintiff is permitted to call other alleged victims as trial witnesses to buttress the case and attempt to demonstrate a pattern of behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  20. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: I.ve seen speculation that naming only Ailes was an attempt to keep at least neutral with Murdoch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. D.C. says:

    Over the weekend we found out why the suit was filed against Ailes and not Fox News Corp. Ailes’s lawyers tried to have the suit dismissed on the ground the Carlson’s contract with Fox News has a mandatory binding arbitration clause. Carlson’s lawyers respond that the suit was not with Fox News but with Roger Ailes personally and that therefore the arbitration clause did not apply.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0