Former host alleges that Fox News CEO derailed her career after she complained about harassment

By Mathew Ingram
July 6, 2016
July 06, 2016

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has filed a lawsuit against the network’s chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, alleging that she was sexually harassed on numerous occasions, both privately and in public, and was fired after she complained about the behavior.

Carlson was until recently the host of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson and a former co-host of the morning show Fox & Friends. She claims that her employment was terminated by the network on June 23, the day that her contract expired, even though her current program was the leading show in its time slot.

The complaint alleges that the firing was “the ultimate retaliation against her after she rebuffed Mr. Ailes’ sexual advances” and tried to challenge unequal treatment of Carlson in the newsroom by male colleagues. According to a statement from the law firm representing her, when she complained about the harassment, Ailes told her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, and seeks an unidentified amount of compensatory and punitive damages from the Fox News chairman and CEO.

“Although this was a difficult step to take, I had to stand up for myself and speak out for all women and the next generation of women in the workplace,” Carlson said in a statement. “I am extremely proud of my accomplishments at Fox News and for keeping our loyal viewers engaged and informed on events and news topics of the day.”

The former Fox News host’s complaint allegedly outlines what the firm says is “a long list of sexually-charged comments and other wrongful behavior” by the Fox News CEO, ranging from lewd innuendo and remarks about Carlson’s body to “demands for sex as a way for her to improve her job standing.”

On a number of occasions, Carlson says that Ailes asked her to “turn around so he could view her posterior, commented repeatedly about her legs, and instructed her to wear certain outfits that he claimed enhanced her figure.” The Fox News head also allegedly made sexist comments about Carlson in public and told attendees at an industry event that he had “slept with three former Miss Americas, but not with her.”

“As a direct and proximate result of Carlson refusing Ailes’ sexual advances, and retaliation for Carlson’s complaints about discrimination and harassment, Ailes terminated her employment, causing her significant economic, emotional and professional harm,” the lawsuit claims.

Ailes released a statement calling the allegations “false and defamatory,” saying Carlson was retaliating for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which the Fox News CEO said was “due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.” The statement added that the lawsuit was “not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”

For its part, Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox said in a statement that it has seen the allegations against Ailes and other staffers, and that it “takes these matters seriously.” The company added that while “we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes,” it has started an internal review of the allegations.

At the Huffington Post, former Fox News contributor Michelle Fields said that employees at the network had been expecting a lawsuit for some time, and quoted a number of unnamed former Fox News hosts and staffers alleging similar behavior on the part of Ailes.

Carlson, a former Miss America winner, joined CBS News in 2000 after working for a number of local affiliate stations and then moved to Fox News in 2005 and became co-host of the morning show Fox & Friends. In 2013, she left that show and started The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.

In her complaint, the former Fox host says that she was fired from “Fox & Friends” after she complained about the behavior of co-host Steve Doocy, and that Ailes mocked her complaints and told her to stop being offended so easily. Carlson alleges that the move to her own show was actually a demotion, and that Ailes “reduced her compensation and withheld network support and promotion.”

Carlson alleges that Doocy “engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment” of her, including mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air and “belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful journalist.”

In a piece she wrote for The Huffington Post last year, Carlson described a pattern of sexual harassment she said she had suffered during her career, including one incident in which she described how a senior TV executive asked her to dinner and then “suddenly threw himself on top of me and stuck his tongue down my throat” in the car afterwards.

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