Fox News settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with former news anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose claims sparked a widespread internal probe and led to the ouster of Roger Ailes, the Republican political strategist who built it into the most-watched U.S. cable news network.
Carlson will get $20 million under the deal, with Ailes contributing to the payout, according to a person with knowledge of the terms. “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve,” parent company 21st Century Fox said, in a statement that didn’t include the financial terms.
In the same statement, Carlson said, “I am ready to move on with the next chapter of my life in which I will redouble my efforts to empower women in the workplace.”
After Carlson sued him personally in July, Ailes has advised Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for the White House. He served as a media consultant for several Republican presidents. Lawyers for Ailes didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes depicts a workplace rampant with sexism, from Ailes’s alleged ogling and innuendos to claims that co-host Steve Doocy mocked her and treated her as a “blond female prop” on “Fox & Friends.”
Ailes, 76, “sabotaged her career because she refused his advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment,” claimed Carlson, 50, a former Miss America.
Ailes commented on her legs and outfits, while trying to engage her in sexual banter, according to the complaint. She also alleged that Ailes said he had slept with three former Miss Americas but not her. Carlson complained again last September to Ailes about his treatment of her.
She said he responded: “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 also said “sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, Carlson claimed.
A similar lawsuit brought by ex-Fox News host Andrea Tantaros against the network and Ailes is ongoing. Tantaros is seeking almost $50 million in damages, saying her tenure at Fox “devolved into a nightmare of sexual harassment.”
In her complaint, Carlson said she complained to Ailes about Doocy in 2009. Ailes allegedly called her a “man hater” and “killer” who needed to learn to “get along with the boys.”
Over several years, Ailes retaliated by reducing Carlson’s hard-hitting political interviews, removing her from once-a-week segments on “The O’Reilly Factor” — Fox News Channel’s highest-rated show — and reassigning her in 2013 to an afternoon slot, according to the complaint. Her compensation was also cut and was far lower than male co-workers, Carlson said.
Ailes fired Carlson on June 23 by failing to renew her contract for “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed in state court in Hackensack, New Jersey, under the New York City Human Rights Law, and sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Carlson named only Ailes, not Fox, as a defendant. Ailes had the case transferred to federal court.
“As far as we know, Fox did not authorize or put its imprimatur on his behavior,” said Carlson attorney Nancy Erika Smith in an interview after the case was filed. “My client’s beef is with Roger Ailes, and we have no indication yet that Fox approved or authorized his behavior or thinks it’s appropriate.”
An attorney for Ailes, Charles Harder, contacted New York Media, the owner of New York Magazine, and its reporter, Gabriel Sherman, asking that they preserve documents related to their reporting on Ailes, for a possible defamation suit, a spokeswoman for the magazine said.
Harder’s letter didn’t disclose the substance of their objections to the magazine’s stories. “Sherman’s work is and has been carefully reported,” said Lauren Starke, the spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
In another development related to Fox News, Greta Van Susteren, host of the nightly “On the Record,” will leave the network after 14 years, according to a statement. One of the company’s biggest female stars, Van Susteren had publicly denied witnessing any sexual harassment first-hand, though it wasn’t clear if her departure was related.