Fox News has agreed to pay $1 million to settle an investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights into claims of sexual harassment at the network. The settlement is the first of its kind against a major news network by a civil rights enforcement agency. While the commission is tasked with enforcing the city’s human rights law, the best way for victims of workplace harassment to fight back is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.
A series of high-profile workplace scandals at Fox involving executives, talk-show hosts, and other employees prompted calls for an investigation by New York State Attorney General Letitia James and advocacy groups in 2017. The commission’s probe revealed a pervasive pattern of sexual harassment and retaliation.
In addition to paying $1 million, Fox has agreed to waive mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements related to complaints brought under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) for the next four years. Such clauses bar employees from filing lawsuits and require them to have an arbitrator resolve their claims.
The settlement also requires Fox News to hold regular sexual harassment prevention training programs for all city-based employees (including executives) and establish a system for reporting discrimination and harassment complaints.
Why This Matters
Though $1 million will not make a dent in the network’s coffers, the fine is the highest civil penalty amount ever ordered for violations of the NYCHRL, according to the commission. The changes to Fox’s mandatory arbitration rules may also serve as a future model for policy for employers in the city. At the same time, sexual harassment and retaliation are still pervasive in many New York workplaces.
Sexual harassment may involve unwanted sexual advances by a person in a position of authority (supervisor harassment) or offensive conduct or comments by anyone in the workplace (supervisors, coworkers, vendors, clients, customers) that are severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Examples of misconduct that may be considered hostile include:
- Inappropriate touching
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Sexual jokes
- Offensive visual displays
Moreover, the comments need not be of a sexual nature to be considered illegal. Offensive remarks about a person’s gender (e.g making offensive comments about women in general) constitute sexual harassment. In any event, sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex discrimination under federal, state, and local law.
Whether the settlement between Fox News and the commission will lead to a change in the network’s culture remains to be seen. In the meantime, victims of sexual harassment have powerful legal remedies. If you have been subjected to harassment in your workplace, talk to an employment lawyer.