Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has filed a shocking sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, claiming that Ailes retaliated against her and ultimately fired her for refusing his sexual advances — and for complaining about repeated sexual harassment from her former Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy.
The complaint, which was filed Wednesday, says that Ailes fired her on June 23, which wasn't public knowledge until now, after having retaliated against her and having "sabotaged her career" in a number of ways.
This isn’t the first time Ailes has been accused of sexually harassing employees, the Washington Post reports. A 2014 biography of Ailes by Gabriel Sherman, The Loudest Voice in the Room, tells the story of a female TV producer who said Ailes once offered her higher pay if she would agree to let him have sex with her whenever he wanted. She declined. She also said that Ailes told her he has "helped a lot of women get ahead" in this way.
And on Wednesday, two anonymous Fox employees told the Huffington Post that they had also been sexually harassed by Ailes.
21st Century Fox is launching an investigation into Ailes and Doocy, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by a spokesperson: "The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter."
The alleged harassment from Ailes was relentless
According to Carlson’s complaint, Carlson met with Ailes last September to complain about ongoing discrimination and retaliation against her, and Ailes replied: "‘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,’ adding that ‘sometimes problems are easier to solve' that way."
The complaint also rattles off examples of the "sexually charged comments" Ailes would direct at Carlson in everyday conversation, including:
- "Ogling" Carlson, asking her to turn around "so he could view her posterior," and urging her to wear certain outfits every day because they compliment her figure.
- Telling Carlson to stop worrying about being treated equally and getting "offended so God damn easy about everything," and accusing her of trying to "show up the boys" on Fox & Friends.
- Telling Carlson that she was "sexy, but too much hard work."
- Bragging in Carlson’s presence that he had slept with three former Miss Americas, but not Carlson.
The alleged retaliation against Carlson was devastating
Carlson says she complained numerous times about her treatment. The lawsuit includes a long list of retaliatory actions that Ailes allegedly took against Carlson for this, which culminated with her firing in June:
- Cutting her pay "to a level that was disproportionate to that of similarly-situated male employees and others who had not complained about discrimination and harassment."
- Giving her fewer hard-hitting interviews and shifting her to less desirable time slots.
- Firing her from Fox & Friends in 2013.
- Refusing to provide her with the same network support and promotion provided to other Fox News hosts after moving her to a new time slot.
- Cutting back on her appearances as a guest commentator and substitute host, and refusing to assign her to cover high-visibility events or important interviews.
The reference to Carlson getting worse treatment than those who didn’t complain about Ailes’s harassment suggests that the problem is incredibly widespread.
Carlson also complained about repeated harassment from former co-host Steve Doocy
The suit doesn’t name Doocy as a defendant, but it does allege that while he and Carlson were co-hosts of Fox & Friends, Doocy "engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson, including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, 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 female journalist rather than just a blond prop."
The complaint also alleges that Doocy "created a hostile work environment by regularly treating [Carlson] in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live telecast."
Ailes, Carlson alleges, refused to take her complaints about Doocy’s treatment seriously and called her a "man hater" and a "killer" who needed to learn how to "get along with the boys."
Fox has come under a lot of criticism for incidents of on-air sexism during its news coverage, as this video from Media Matters demonstrates:
And if Carlson’s allegations are true, it would mean that Ailes has both perpetrated and enabled a toxic culture of misogyny at Fox News — off the air as well as on.
Update: Ailes released a statement Wednesday responding to the lawsuit:
Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.