Fox News agreed to pay a record $ 1 million to settle a New York Human Rights Commission investigation into what one panel called “a culture of ubiquitous sexual harassment and retaliation on the network.”
The deal with Fox News is “the first of its kind against a large news network of a civil rights enforcement agency in the country,” the commission said in a press release on Tuesday, in which the agreement was revealed.
As part of the deal, the conservative news broadcaster agreed for the next four years to waive compulsory arbitration clauses in employee contracts related to job complaints raised under the city’s human rights law.
These clauses prevent employees from filing certain claims or disputes in legal proceedings and instead require them to have their allegations heard by an arbitrator. This arrangement can prevent the media and the public from knowing about the allegations.
The deal also obliges Fox to provide regular sexual harassment prevention training and spectator training for all city-based employees, including executives.
And the network must put in place a 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 ever imposed for violating the city’s human rights law, the commission said in a press release.
“Our agreement today shows that no one is above the law in New York City,” said Carmelyn Malalis, chair of the NYC Human Rights Commission.
The changes to Fox’s mandatory arbitration rules should be viewed “as a model for future policy” for employers looking to increase transparency and accountability, Malalis said.
In a statement, Fox News Media said it was “pleased to reach an amicable solution to this legacy matter.”
“FOX News Media has been fully compliant in all areas but has worked with the New York Human Rights Commission to continue to take comprehensive preventive measures against all forms of discrimination and harassment,” the statement said.
A string of high profile workplace scandals in recent years involving Fox’s top executives – including former network chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and former marquee talk show host Bill O’Reilly – sparked investigations by attorneys in New York.
Ailes resigned in 2016 shortly after being accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit brought by former Fox presenter Gretchen Carlson. Ailes died in May 2017 at the age of 77.
Suzanne Scott took over as CEO of Fox News Media in 2018.
In a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Scott – who has been with the network for more than two decades – said she “feels devastated for the women who work here” and “wants to do whatever it takes to help them Place to heal ”.
But Nancy Erika Smith, a New Jersey attorney who represented Carlson in her lawsuit against Ailes, accused Scott and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch of “creating a toxic work environment, especially for women and others, and now they have to pay for it . “
“Ending compulsory arbitration is a great way to do this, as victim silence has been their MO since 1996,” said Smith, who represented other women who worked at Fox in separate lawsuits.
“I don’t see how we change Murdoch. I don’t see you changing Suzanne Scott, ”said Smith.
“But ending mandatory arbitration will stop silencing victims.”
Smith said several of her clients cooperated with the commission’s investigation.
In an additional statement, Fox News Media said it has “worked tirelessly for the past five years to completely transform the corporate culture.”
“Under the direction of CEO Suzanne Scott, the network conducted annual, mandatory personal training sessions on harassment prevention, created a completely new reporting structure, more than tripled the size of our staff presence, launched quarterly corporate meetings and mentoring events, and a zero tolerance policy in relation to workplace misconduct, for which we use third-party independent companies to conduct investigations, “the company said.
“No other company has undertaken such a thorough and continuous overhaul that earned FOX News Media recognition as a ‘Great Place to Work’ for the first time in its existence, testament to the many cultural changes Ms. Scott has initiated throughout her life Tenure as CEO, “said Fox’s statement.