Gretchen Carlson has filed suit against Fox News and Roger Ailes for sex discrimination. Ms. Carlson was Miss America in 1989 and is attractive. In her lawsuit, she accuses Mr. Ailes of ogling her, repeatedly commenting about her legs, and once told her she was sexy but “too much hard work.” Nine months ago, he told her she should have had a sexual relationship with him long ago. Things would have been better for her, he assured, if she had. Mr. Ailes is 76 years old. Ms. Carlson is 50.
As the suit points out, Ms. Carlson anchored her own show until a few weeks ago. She was demoted three years ago from a position as host of the morning show when she complained about sexual harassment. She had apparently complained about one of her co-workers, Steve Doocy, who, she said, condescended toward her and treated her in a sexist way. She should, said Mr. Ailes at the time, learn to get along with “the boys.” Mr. Ailes also accused her at the time of being a “man hater.” See CBS news report. I bet Fox’ lawyer really cringes over that last statement.
An employer should not say things like that. The chief executive officer should not bring sex or gender into a discussion when someone complains about sex harassment. That should be a basic principle for avoiding lawsuits. Sex harassment is subjective. It is hard to show. Mr. Ailes gained nothing by making comments suggesting she was not “one of the boys.” If Fox did not then conduct some sort of investigation about her complaints, it will start out in this lawsuit with a deficit. Sex harassment is hard to prove. Retaliation is much easier. At least so far, Ms. Carlson’s case looks pretty good.