Fox News agreed to pay a record $1 million to settle an investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights into what a panel called a “culture of pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation at the network.”
The settlement with Fox News is “the first of its kind against a major news network by a civil rights enforcement agency in the country,” the commission panel said in a news release Tuesday revealing the agreement.
As part of the settlement, the conservative news channel agreed for the next four years to waive forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts related to workplace complaints brought under the city’s human rights law.
Those clauses block employees from filing certain claims or disputes in lawsuits in court, and instead compel them to have an arbitrator hear their allegations. That arrangement can prevent the media and the public from learning about the claims.
The deal also requires Fox to hold regular sexual harassment prevention and bystander training sessions for all city-based employees, including executives.
And the network must put in place a multi-tiered system for reporting discrimination and harassment complaints for at least two years, the commission said.
The $1 million fine is the highest civil penalty amount ever ordered for violations of the city’s Human Rights Law, the commission said in a press release.
“Our settlement today demonstrates that in New York City no one is above the law,” said Carmelyn Malalis, chair of the NYC Human Rights Commission.
The changes to Fox’s mandatory arbitration rules should be seen “as a model for future policy” for employers seeking to boost transparency and accountability, Malalis said.
In a statement, Fox News Media said it is “pleased to reach an amicable resolution of this legacy matter.”
“FOX News Media has already been in full compliance across the board, but cooperated with the New York City Commission on Human Rights to continue enacting extensive preventive measures against all forms of discrimination and harassment,” the statement said.
A series of high-profile workplace scandals in recent years involving the top brass at Fox — including former network chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and former marquee talk-show host Bill O’Reilly — prompted calls for investigation from advocates in New York.
Ailes stepped down in 2016, shortly after being accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit brought by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson. Ailes died in May 2017 at age 77.
Suzanne Scott took over in 2018 as CEO of Fox News Media.
In a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Scott — who had been at the network for more than two decades — said she “felt devastated for the women who work here” and “wanted to do everything I could to heal this place.”
But Nancy Erika Smith, a New Jersey lawyer who represented Carlson in her suit against Ailes, accused Scott and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch of creating “a toxic work environment, for women especially, and others, and now they have to pay for it.”
“Ending mandatory arbitration is a great way of doing that because silencing victims has been their M.O. since 1996,” said Smith, who has represented other women who worked at Fox in separate lawsuits.
“I don’t see how we change Murdoch. I don’t see how you change Suzanne Scott,” Smith said.
“But ending mandatory arbitration will stop silencing the victims.”
Smith said that several of her clients cooperated with the commission investigation.
In an additional statement, Fox News Media said that it has “worked tirelessly to completely change the company culture over the last five years.”
“Under the leadership of CEO Suzanne Scott, the network has implemented annual, mandatory in person harassment prevention training, created an entirely new reporting structure, more than tripled the size of our HR footprint, started quarterly company meetings and mentoring events, as well as implemented a zero tolerance policy regarding workplace misconduct for which we engage outside independent firms to handle investigations,” the company said.
“No other company has implemented such a comprehensive and continuous overhaul, which notably, earned FOX News Media recognition as a ‘Great Place to Work’ for the first time in its existence, a testament to the many cultural changes that Ms. Scott has instituted during her tenure as CEO,” Fox’s statement said.