Fox Ends Carlson Sex-Harassment Suit With $20 Million Payout

  • Ex-anchor Carlson sued Roger Ailes, claiming bias at Fox
  • Ailes stepped down as CEO amid lawsuits, internal probe

Supercut of Gretchen Carlson on 'Fox & Friends'

Fox News reached a sexual harassment settlement 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 a $20 million settlement in her lawsuit filed against Ailes, according to a person with knowledge of the terms. Ailes won’t contribute to the settlement, said his attorney, Susan Estrich. The rapid resolution -- just two months after Carlson sued Ailes -- also involved a public apology rarely seen in such a high-profile case. 

“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 disclose 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.”

Fox has also agreed to settlements with other women, the person with knowledge of the agreements said. 

After being sued by Carlson in July and then ousted by Fox, Ailes began advising Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for the White House. Ailes has served as a media consultant for several Republican presidents.

Workplace Culture

Carlson, 50, a former Miss America, depicted 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,” according to Carlson’s lawsuit.

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.

Tantaros Lawsuit

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.”

The Carlson settlement amount was unusually high for a sexual harassment case, said attorney Tom Spiggle, who isn’t involved in the case.

“They’re usually tied to lost wages, and as a news anchor her lost wages are a lot more than the average employee,” said Spiggle of Arlington, Virginia. “The amount might be keeping with that, although with a premium due to the public nature of the case.”

21st Century Fox fell 13 cents to $24.42 in New York trading.

‘Man Hater’

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 her 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.”

Defamation Claim

Ailes’s lawyer, 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. Sherman has written extensively about Ailes.

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,” quit the network after 14 years. One of the company’s biggest female stars, Van Susteren had publicly denied witnessing any sexual harassment first-hand.

“Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years and I took advantage of the clause in my contract which allows me to leave now,” according to a post on Van Susteren’s Facebook page. “The clause had a time limitation, meaning I could not wait.”

Fox News Channel’s senior political analyst Brit Hume will take over Van Susteren’s time slot, according to a statement from the network.

— With assistance by Anousha Sakoui, and Erik Larson

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