Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fox Settles Sexual Harassment Suit with Gretchen Carlson

What do you get when you add a high profile sexual harassment suit, a highly compensated employee, and a well known target?

$20 million.

That is the number that Gretchen Carlson is receiving in settlement of her sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, deposed Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
What do the parties have to say?

Fox News apologized: “Gretchen exhibited the highest standards of journalism and professionalism. She developed a loyal audience and was a daily source of information for many Americans. We are proud that she was part of the Fox News team. 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.”
Gretchen Carlson re-enforced her mission statement: “I am gratified that 21st Century Fox took decisive action after I filed my Complaint. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life 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 in which talent, hard work and loyalty are recognized, revered and rewarded.”

The takeaway for employers? Respect, dignity, and awareness. Fox News’s statement apologizes for not providing Gretchen “with the respect and dignity” all employees deserve. Gretchen Carlson, meanwhile, focuses her words on empowering women and of the importance for a “dignified and respectful workplace.” 

This high profile lawsuit will only increase your employees’ awareness of sexual harassment. And while no one should suffer harassment or mistreatment in the workplace, the $20 million settlement will put dollar signs in your employees’ eyes. In other words, employers get ready, because the sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits are coming. You best be hyper-vigilant in ferreting out workplace harassment, creating an atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable complaining to management, investigating all allegations no matter the source, and responding quickly and decisively to reasonably ensure that the harassment stops. 

This case has the opportunity to be a game changer for workplace harassment, much the same way Anita Hill was 25 years ago. I have the feeling that Gretchen Carlson will spend a chunk of her $20 million to help ensure that it is.