It’s wonderful that the legislation in our country has made so many strides to recognize women’s rights to live and work alongside men without fear of harassment or intimidation. Unfortunately, as has happened with so many other progressive civil rights, what the law says, and what actually happens don’t always coincide.
Companies are not legally allowed to fire employees or refuse to hire candidates based on their gender or as the result of a discrimination lawsuit, but there are other ways employers can (and do) retaliate. Most women who speak out against male colleagues who have harassed them suffer from both personal and professional estrangement. It’s easy enough for employers to find seemingly unrelated reasons for firing their workers and almost impossible for those workers to prove the root cause of their dismissal really stemmed from the fact they dared to defend their own civil rights.
Even companies that publicly claim to support their female employees and condemn sexual harassment are rarely doing more than paying lip service to the law. For example, 21st Century Fox recently released a statement claiming they do not tolerate any behavior that is disrespectful or creates an uncomfortable environment for its employees, but the company has allegedly been failing to live up to that promise for decades.
Gretchen Carlson, a former news anchor for Fox News, filed a lawsuit against her former employer alleging she was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, the company’s chief executive at the time. The bad press generated by Carlson’s harassment lawsuit eventually led to Ailes’s resignation, but two other women, Laurie Luhn and Rudi Bakhtiar have also spoken out about the harassment that women allegedly regularly experience at Fox News, as well as the ways in which Fox has been covering up these scandals, rather than dealing with them appropriately.
To start with, Fox includes an arbitration agreement in its employment contracts, which requires all disputes between Fox and its workers, including allegations of harassment, to be settled privately via arbitration. Such an agreement clearly benefits Fox by preventing any scandals from going public. Because arbitration is not equipped to handle class action lawsuits, the agreement also prevents Fox’s employees from combining their claims, which further ensures the victims, who are already unlikely to speak out, will be even less likely to file a claim against their employer, no matter how legitimate their claim may be.
When Fox did address alleged violations of harassment, their actions suggested they were much more concerned about how the allegations would make the company look if made public than the actual problem. According to Luhn and Bakhtiar, Fox News has already paid millions in sexual harassment settlements and included terms in their settlement agreements that prohibit the victim from ever speaking about the incident. While the women are silenced and paid off, the men at the center of the harassment claims allegedly suffer no consequences whatsoever.
That finally changed with the help of Carlson, Luhn, and Bakhtiar. Although the terms of the settlements have not been disclosed, Fox allegedly paid Luhn $3.15 million to settle her claims against Ailes and the company, and defendants don’t cough up that much dough unless there’s a serious claim involved.
Furthermore, another investigation into the allegations of Fox’s misconduct found Ailes had been given free reign to negotiate the terms of the settlement, despite the fact he was at the center of the allegations and should not have been allowed to participate in the proceedings at all.
If the allegations are true, it’s sad that Ailes was allowed to get away with his alleged misconduct for as long as he did, but at the same time, it’s a relief for women all around the country to see that he has finally been made to pay for his alleged actions.
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