Gretchen Carlson’s Sexual Harassment Suit Could Be a Tipping Point

Fox News has agreed to pay Gretchen Carlson $20 million in a court settlement after an onslaught of public scrutiny and pressure that began when she filed a lawsuit against Robert Ailes for sexual harassment in July.

Carlson alleged that Ailes had used his position of power to attempt to coerce Carlson into a sexual relationship, humiliate her with sexual comments both in public and private and limit her career—eventually even firing her—as punishment for not acquiescing to his abusive advances. She revealed that Ailes had harassed her for years, and that while he was acting as her boss he dismissed her complaints about another team member’s hostile behavior—accusing Carlson of being  a “man hater” who should work to “get along with the boys.”

“We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve,” 21st Century Fox said in what experts call an “uncommon” public apology. Their earnest statement and particularly large settlement are likely moves to minimize negative perceptions of the company amidst an erupting sexual harassment scandal.

Indeed, Carlson isn’t the only woman to come forward about Ailes’ abusive behavior: 25 other women who have worked at Fox have now reported that they also suffered both physical and verbal sexual harassment from the former chairman and CEO. Initially, Fox’s response was to attempt to discredit these women, threaten to terminate their employment and only then to hold a private internal investigation. Their callous response led activists to call for transparency and action against sexual harassment within the company.

Fox is now working on settlements with several other women, but questions remain as to how Ailes will be held accountable. He is not be responsible for paying the settlement, and had retained a $60 million consulting job for the company. As supporters of Ailes continue to be promoted within the company, proof of concrete changes in office culture and actions against sexism in the workplace are lacking.

Countless other women’s accusations of sexual harassment or assault against powerful men have been dismissed or attacked due to victim-blaming and social bias against believing women’s experiences of sexual violence. Carlson’s immense courage in coming forward against the powerful Fox News will not be forgotten—and she herself hopes to inspire women across political divides to stand up against sexist treatment in the workplace.

“I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life,” Carlson wrote in a statement, “in which I will redouble my efforts to empower women in the workplace. I want to thank all the brave women who came forward to tell their own stories and the many people across the country who embraced and supported me in their #StandWithGretchen. All women deserve a dignified and respectful workplace.”


Katie Farro is an editorial intern at Ms. She received her Bachelor's from UCLA where she studied Gender with a minor in Labor Studies.