• Talks follow harassment lawsuit by ex-anchor Gretchen Carlson
  • Fox News Channel is profit leader for parent 21st Century Fox

Even as Fox News Channel Chairman Roger Ailes is in negotiations to leave the cable-news network he built over two decades, his lawyers appeared in federal court to seek a tactical advantage in the sexual harassment case brought by former anchor Gretchen Carlson.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares on Wednesday said he will review written arguments before holding a hearing Aug. 15 to determine whether the case should remain with him in Newark, New Jersey, or be transferred to federal court in New York, where Ailes says it belongs.

The hearing came as 21st Century Fox Inc., the parent of the network, is discussing possible exit terms for Ailes, said a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the talks. Ailes is one of the most powerful executives in television news, having built Fox News into a source of more than $1 billion in profit a year. He has also had considerable sway over Republican politics. 

Ailes, 76, was sued this month by Carlson, who claimed she was fired for refusing his sexual advances and complaining about his conduct. The allegations prompted parent company 21st Century Fox to begin an internal review

Venue Debate

Ailes had the case moved from state court to federal court in Newark, New Jersey. He wants the case transferred to New York, which he said is his primary residence, and he wants a judge there to transfer the case to closed arbitration proceedings. Carlson has said the case should be heard in federal court in Newark. 

Lawyers for Carlson filed a motion seeking an immediate ruling on the question of venue. Linares set a schedule for the lawyers to file written arguments before the Aug. 15 hearing on that question.

“My door remains open if either side wants to talk about an amicable resolution or mediation,” Linares said. “There’s too many things being filed. I wanted to slow down the process.”

New York Magazine reported this week that management at 21st Century Fox, led by Co-Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Chief Executive Officer James and Co-Executive Chairman Lachlan, had concluded Ailes had to go even though an investigation of his alleged wrongdoing was still under way. The also magazine reported that Megyn Kelly, one of the network’s top personalities, leveled similar accusations against Ailes.

Workplace Atmosphere

Carlson’s lawsuit depicts a workplace rampant with sexism, from Ailes’s alleged ogling and innuendos to claims that a male colleague mocked her and treated her as a “blond female prop” on “Fox & Friends.” Ailes “sabotaged her career because she refused his advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment,” claimed Carlson, 50, a former Miss America.

Ailes has said that Carlson’s allegations are false and her lawsuit came in retaliation for the network’s decision not to renew her contract because her “disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.”

According to Carlson’s complaint, Ailes commented on her legs and outfits, while trying to engage her in sexual banter. 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.

When she complained to Ailes about a colleague in 2009, the Fox News boss allegedly called her a “man hater” and “killer” who needed to learn to “get along with the boys.”

The case is Carlson v. Ailes, 16-cv-4138, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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