I cannot open the newspaper anymore without seeing sexual harassment headlines. (Yes, I still get and read an actual newspaper.)
Yesterday, I posted about the high-powered, high profile founder of food chains caught on camera grabbing an employee’s butt at a manager’s meeting. If you missed it, you can read here that the Fuddruckers’ founder allegedly didn’t think the employee would mind because he thinks of her “as one of the guys.”
Late yesterday, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Fox’s chairman and chief executive, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Fox dropped Carlson, a Fox host for eleven years and co-host of the “Fox & Friends” morning program and later an afternoon news show on Fox, when her contract expired on June 23 — after a two-minute conversation with a Fox executive.
Maybe not so much.
Carlson alleges that her contract was not renewed because she challenged unequal treatment of women at Fox and for rejecting the sexual advances of her boss, Ailes.
While Fox and Ailes have denied any wrongdoing, as of today, 10 additional women have contacted Carlson’s attorneys to report that they endured much of the same misconduct. For example, he allegedly asked one woman if she was wearing any underwear and if he was going to see anything good.
Who says this in the workplace?
We’ve seen many of these allegations before, folks:
- Ailes “ogled” her in his office and asked her to turn around so he could view her from behind;
- Ailes suggested that she wear certain outfits to show off her figure and commented “repeatedly” about her legs;
- Carlson’s co-host, Steve Doocy, grabbed her arm on air and attempted to “shush” her during a live telecast;
- Doocy belittled her during commercial breaks and “generally attempting to put her in place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blond female prop.”;
- When Carlson complained to Ailes, Ailes “unlawfully retaliated” against her and “sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”;
- According to the complaint, Ailes responded, “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”;
- Ailes allegedly responded to her complaints by calling her a “man hater” and “killer” and telling her she needed “to get along with the boys” and telling her not to get offended “so goddamn easy about everything.
- Can’t Even. He shushed her on air? Telling Carlson that her career would improve if she had a sexual relationship with Ailes? And that she needed to get along with the boys?
This harkens back to JWT’s Gustavo Martinez’s alleged response to his sexist comments that “women are too sensitive,” which you can read about here.
We cannot state this enough: if true, this is sexual harassment. It is severe and pervasive unwelcome conduct that so permeates the workplace as to create a hostile work environment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 proscribes this type of conduct.
Further, reducing a news employee’s compensation, denying her high-profile interviews, reassigning said employee to a lesser time slot, and then (surprise!) failing to renew her contract, is classic retaliation, also prohibited by Title VII. Once an employee complains about discrimination to HR, a supervisor, or even the boss, if the employer then takes an “adverse action” including termination of the employee, the employer can be held liable for retaliation against the employee for complaining about discrimination.
People: women comprise 50% of the population. Treating them like sexual objects or as less capable or intelligent as men, groping them in the office or making unwelcome sexual advances, conditioning a woman’s career trajectory on sex or looks, shushing them in a professional setting (or, my favorite, telling a woman to “calm down” in a meeting) is not only unprofessional but proscribed by law.
We see this frat culture and tacit approval for sexual harassment and discrimination at all levels of industry, not just male-dominated industries any more—advertising, law, fire departments, college campuses, corporations, in professional sports, in the scientific fields, the National Park Service—and it’s time to stop.
As my partner Rich Cohen said here, Stop! Stop doing it and we’ll stop complaining about it.