Last week, former Fox News Anchor Gretchen Carlson slapped Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes with a wrongful termination and sexual harassment lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges that Ailes made “sexually charged comments” to Carlson, including comments about her body and requests for what could be considered quid pro quo sex. According to the allegations, Ailes stated that Carlson and he “should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago . . . .”
Carlson’s complaint also attributes numerous other sexually charged statements to Ailes, including comments about her legs and posterior and requests that she wear certain clothes to enhance her figure. Carlson claims that, following her rejection of Ailes’ advances, her contract with Fox News was terminated. Ailes claims that Carlson’s allegations are false and that her contract was terminated due to her television show’s poor ratings.
Irrespective of where the truth lies in this Carlson vs. Ailes matter, it is important for employers to ensure proper coworker conduct in the workplace and to implement thoughtful harassment and discrimination policies to address alleged workplace discrimination. In the coming months, it will be interesting to see what complaints Carlson made to the human resources department at Fox News, whether Fox News investigated Carlson’s complaints, to what extent the complaints were investigated, and the outcome of such investigation.
Companies should have well-defined sexual harassment and discrimination policies that identify inappropriate behavior and the mechanisms for complaining, including to whom the aggrieved employee should complain. Once a complaint is received, employers should thoroughly investigate the complaint, interview the relevant witnesses, and determine whether any remedial action is warranted. Companies in general should discourage employees (both management and non-management) from making improper, sexually charged comments, including many of the types of comments Carlson imputes to Ailes in her lawsuit.