Some of the worst suspicions about how women are treated at Fox News are outlined in a new lawsuit by former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson is remembered for walking off the set in 2012 when morning show co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade engaged in sexist on-air banter. "Women are everywhere, we are letting them play golf and tennis now, it's out of control," Kilmeade said. "You read the headlines if men are so great," Carlson said, walking off.
In a civil suit she filed Wednesday, Carlson alleges she was fired for complaining about sexual harassment and had rebuffed advances by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. Fox News, which is known for its active press office, has yet to comment so far publicly about the accusations.
Carlson says harassment was commonplace during her career and is coming forward now, after being fired, because she worried that a woman wouldn't be protected.
"I've always considered myself a strong woman, not afraid to stand up for myself, but in the face of sexual harassment I was silent," she wrote for the Huffington Post. "It's well and good to say, 'Expose the harassers,' but even with laws and HR departments, we're unfortunately not at a place where we can say absolutely that a woman who is harassed will be protected from repercussions if she tells."
In the lawsuit, Carlson says problems began when she complained about degrading treatment from Doocy, "treating her in a sexist and condescending way," including by putting his hands on her to shush her during a live telecast.
Carlson, who was with the news outlet for 11 years before being terminated in June, alleges her exit from Fox News was part of a pattern of minimizing her contributions and diminishing her pay, which took place because she "refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and persistent sexual harassment." This is the same network accused of having a "leg cam" intended to show off the legs of women joining its panel discussions.
According to the lawsuit, this was just part of what Carlson endured. She claims Doocy mocked her during commercial breaks and refused to engage with her on-air, constantly trying to put her in her place, treating her as "a blond female prop."
When Ailes learned Carlson had complained about the situation, she alleges he called her a "man hater" and told her she needed to learn "to get along with the boys" and accused her of "trying to show up the boys." Once when she walked over to him at a function he allegedly embarrassed himself boasting to the people around him that he always stays seated when a woman approaches so that she has to "bend down" to greet him.
As her disgust at his behavior became clear, Carlson alleges Ailes retaliated against her giving her fewer hard-hitting assignments and reducing her 6 p.m. appearances despite her good ratings.
In the suit, Carlson alleges that whenever she spoke directly with Ailes, he injected a sexist statement or innuendo into the encounters. She claims he once told her "you act like it only rains on women" and asked her to "stop being offended so God damn easy by everything."
Once he allegedly asked her to turn around so he could view her rear. Other times he allegedly told her she should wear certain outfits because they enhanced her figure and commented on her legs. She claims he once wondered aloud how anyone could be married to her, and another time said if he could be stranded on a desert island with anyone it would be her. Once he allegedly told her: "I'm sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to."
Other former employees, including out commentator Ellen Ratner, described Fox as a lovely place to work in a 2014 article written for The Advocate, defending the station against allegations of homophobia. "Fox possesses the finest corporate culture I have ever witnessed, and it's a tribute to Roger," she wrote, singing Ailes' praises.
However, that was not Carlson's experience.
In front of others, Ailes allegedly said he had slept with three former Miss America's but not her, referring to Carlson who was crowned in 1989. Finally in 2015, Carlson called a meeting with Ailes hoping to end the alleged harassment. Instead of listening to her, Carlson claims he stated "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," allegedly adding that "problems are easier to solve that way." Her contract was not renewed, a problem she is now seeking to remedy in court where she is suing for mental anguish, damage to her career and lost compensation, among other things.
Further, sexual harassment encompasses many behaviors many of which employers may wrongfully assume are legal. "For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general," according to the EEOC website. The comments also don't have to be directed at the intended target of the harassment, for example if two male co-workers are speaking negatively in front of a female co-worker about women in general that could be considered sexual harassment.
In her Huffington Post article, Carlson argued that sexual harassment was not just a woman's issue. "Part of putting an end to harassment involves educating boys to be completely accepting of women, both at home and at work, so that harassment becomes a relic of the past."