Last week, the longtime Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson brought allegations of sexual harassment against the network’s chairman, Roger Ailes. Carlson had worked at Fox News since 2005, but the network recently decided not to renew her contract; her claim asserts that Ailes is punishing her for speaking out against persistent workplace harassment and refusing his sexual advances. She is seeking compensatory damages.
Through his legal team, Ailes has maintained the lawsuit is frivolous and that he terminated her employment because her ratings were “disappointingly low.” Indeed, according to The New York Times, Carlson’s was the lowest-rated daytime program on Fox News. Moreover, the timing of her lawsuit has raised eyebrows-why, if she’d endured harassment for years, was she only now taking action?
As it turns out, she may have had good reason.
Workplace sexual harassment is widespread-and vastly underreported
In some respects, the most noteworthy aspect of Carlson’s lawsuit is that she decided to pursue legal action at all. Many estimates suggest that 25 percent of all women experience sexual harassment in their careers. Most, however, don’t do anything about it. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently found that less than a third of those who suffer workplace harassment speak about it with a supervisor; a much smaller share takes legal steps.
This may stem from the fact that harassment can be difficult to identify. In addition to prohibiting explicit offers of sex-for-promotion (or sex-for-keeping-one’s-current-job), federal law also protects against subtler forms of abuse, but these can be harder to detect:
- Suggestive comments
- Sexually overt jokes
- Lewd emails or text messages
- Circulation of inappropriate materials (such as pornography) in the workspace
Many women-and men-elect to ignore and forget instances of harassment, fearful of jeopardizing their jobs.
Carlson’s comrades-in-arms may outnumber her detractors
A number of Fox News personalities have denounced Carlson in recent days. They say that she is merely bitter, that Ailes is an upstanding character. And perhaps this is the case.
Nevertheless, since news of the lawsuit has become public, six more women have stepped up with similar claims against Ailes. One former employee reported that he offered her an extra $100 per week in salary if she agreed to have sex with him whenever he wanted.
In light of such progressions, News Corp., the company that owns Fox News, is taking the unusual step of conducting an outside investigation of Ailes rather than-as had been customary in the past-defending him without first attending to the facts.