Fox News will pay $20 million to Gretchen Carlson to settle her sex harassment suit against the network’s former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, an unprecedented sum according to legal experts.
Along with her windfall, Carlson, who had been with the network since 2005 until her contract ended in June, also received a mea culpa from the network for Ailes’ behavior.
“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," the company said in their news release.
Carlson filed the lawsuit in early July, claiming repeated harassment from Ailes and colleagues dating back 10 years. Substantiating her claims were audio recordings of Ailes saying “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago,” and other shocking statements.
She also claimed the company retaliated by taking her off Fox & Friends and cutting her pay because she didn’t sleep with him.
Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox quickly launched an internal investigation, and just two weeks later Ailes, 76, resigned after 20 years as chairman and CEO of Fox News, collecting a $40 million settlement of his own.
“What she accomplished was to say ‘I was objectified and degraded. The terms of my contract were different for me, because I was sexualized and expected to sleep with him to keep my job,'” said Jack Tuckner, a New York civil rights attorney who specializes in harassment and discrimination.
Yet this outcome between such high-profile players is misleading, Tuckner said.
“It raises awareness for us mere mortals who are lucky for a five-figure settlement,” he said, adding that a good and fair outcome for someone who lost work in such a situation would be lucky for a payout of 6 to 12 months of salary.
“Women who expect 20 million, or even 1 million, with all things like punitive damages considered, will be sorely disappointed,” added Tuckner. “This is not representative of 99.9 percent of cases.”
New Jersey court filings show Carlson, 50, voluntarily dropped the lawsuit. In a statement said she was grateful for Fox’s “decisive action.”
The suit between Carlton and Fox may be over, but there are several other women suing them for sexual harassment in cases that have not been resolved.
Former anchor Andrea Tantaros claimed she was taken off the air in April in retaliation for rebuffing Ailes’ advances and lodging complaint with Fox execs.
Her lawsuit claims Fox is a “sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like culture, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”
Whether Tantaros can receive a similar settlement from Fox is hard to say, said Tuckner.
“Every case is different. Gretchen was able to hit it out of the park. She had a trifecta: a star legal team, she had these tapes, she had witnesses. There was just no defense,” Tuckner said.
Ailes’s history of inappropriate behavior stretches back to the 1980s when he was working at NBC, New York Magazine reported. A woman named Randi Harrison said that when she interviewed for a producing job Ailes said he would increase her salary by $100 a week in exchange for sex.
Carlson, who was crowned Miss America in 1989 and is a graduate of Stanford University said she is now on a mission to “empower women in the workplace.”
“I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life in which I will redouble my efforts to empower women in the workplace,” she said in a statement. She also thanked the people who supported her #StandWithGretchen Twitter campaign.
“All women deserve a dignified and respectful workplace in which talent, hard work and loyalty are recognized, revered and rewarded.”