Gretchen Carlson files sexual harassment suit against Fox's Ailes
Suit against Fox News’ Roger Ailes puts a spotlight on sexual harassment.
Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News Channel host, said Wednesday she was fired by the conservative-leaning cable news network and has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against its chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes.
In a statement released through a public relations firm, Carlson, best known for co-hosting “Fox & Friends” until 2013, said she “refused to sleep” with Ailes and “reported disparaging treatment in the newsroom,” including what she said was a "sexist and condescending" way her co-host, Steve Doocy, dealt with her.
Carlson left Fox on June 23 when her contract expired. Her program, “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson,” was the leading cable news show in its afternoon time slot, she claimed. A former Miss America and a graduate of Stanford University, Carlson worked for CBS News as a correspondent before joining Fox in 2005.
“Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment," the complaint read. “When Carlson met with Ailes to discuss the discriminatory treatment to which she was being subjected, Ailes stated: ‘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,’ adding that ‘sometimes problems are easier to solve’ that way.”
In a statement late Wednesday, 21st Century Fox said it had "full confidence" in Ailes and Doocy and has "commenced an internal review of the matter."
In a statement, Ailes said Carlson’s allegations are false. "This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup," he said. "When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit."
"This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously," Ailes said.
Carlson couldn't be reached for comment. The clerk's office of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Bergen County confirmed the lawsuit was filed Wednesday.
"Ailes’ claim that Gretchen Carlson was terminated because of bad ratings is demonstrably false,” according to a statement jointly released Thursday by Carlson’s lawyers, Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin and Martin Hyman of Golenbock Eiseman.
“The publicly available ratings confirm the allegation in the complaint that at the time of her termination Gretchen’s total viewership was up 33% year to date and up 23% in the key demographic,” they wrote.
Fox News refuted her claim that her show's viewership rose 33%, saying every cable news program is experiencing higher ratings due to the election. Her program was beaten by CNN in June in the 25-54 demographic and "had the narrowest margin of victory over CNN of any (Fox News Channel) show for the second quarter of 2016," it said.
In their statement, Carlson's lawyers also challenged Ailes to deny, under oath, that he made the statements attributed to him in the complaint.
Though it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, Fox News is controlled firmly by Ailes, a former media consultant to President Nixon who launched the network in 1996. With conservative talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly dominating its prime time lineup, Fox News is far and away the most popular cable news channel and has among the highest ratings on cable.
According to the complaint, Carlson complained to her supervisor in September 2009 that Doocy, one of her co-hosts on "Fox & Friends," had allegedly created "a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live broadcast."
After learning of Carlson's complaints, Ailes allegedly responded by calling her a "man-hater" and "killer," according to the complaint. She claims she was given fewer coveted assignments and interviews and was removed from her once-a-week appearances on "The O'Reilly Factor." Her removal from "Fox & Friends" in 2013 was also a punitive move by Ailes, she claimed.
Ailes said Fox News provided her with "more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book."
Among other charges Carlson levies against Ailes: “Ogling Carlson in his office and asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior”; “commenting that certain outfits enhanced Carlson’s figure and urging her to wear them every day”; "commenting repeatedly about Carlson’s legs"; and “lamenting that marriage was ‘boring,’ ‘hard,’ and ‘not much fun.’”
Alleging Ailes hurt her career advancement, Carlson is seeking compensatory damages, damages for mental anguish, punitive damages, attorneys' fees and "reimbursement for negative tax consequences resulting from a jury verdict" on this case.
This isn’t the first time Ailes has been accused of sexual harassment. According to The Loudest Voice in the Room, a biography of Ailes written by New York magazine national affairs editor Gabriel Sherman, Ailes was negotiating a salary with Randi Harrison, a TV producer, in the 1980s when he offered her an additional $100 each week “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want.”
Fox has said that the charges in Sherman's book are false.
Last year, Carlson wrote an essay on The Huffington Post, detailing her past experiences with sexual harassment while serving as Miss America and working as a reporter. She didn’t mention any of her encounters with her colleagues and bosses at Fox.
“We have to stop blaming the victim,” she wrote. “I believe that sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all businesses and organizations.”
Contributing: Kevin McCoy