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Sexual harassment usually is not an isolated event. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News host, recently filed a lawsuit against (now former) CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes, alleging causes
of action for sexual harassment and retaliatory termination. Ms. Carlson primarily alleges that Ailes propositioned her on numerous occasions, ogled her, demanded that she turn around so he could view her rear, and used sexually demeaning language. Ms. Carlson also alleges that Ailes fired her after she continually rebuffed his overtures over a 9-month period. Since Ms. Carlson filed her lawsuit, several other women came forward and accused Ailes of similar behavior. Some have spoken anonymously and others have gone on the record. While many of these allegations are decades old and no longer actionable, if true, they show a startling pattern of abuse of power, sexual discrimination and harassment, and downright perversion over almost a half a century.

Who is Roger Ailes?

Ailes’ early career was as a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani’s first mayoral campaign. In the
fall of 1996, Ailes became the founding CEO of Fox News. In 2005, he was named Chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group.

Who are the accusers?

At least three women accuse Ailes of engaging in sexual harassment while he produced the Michael Douglas Show in the late 1960’s. Marsha Callahan is one of these women,. Ms. Callahan, a former model, alleges that Ailes offered to put her on the show if she had sex with him. She further alleges that he said she also would have to sleep with “a few of my select friends”. Two other women accuse Ailes of groping, kissing, and exposing his genitals. And an 1unidentified television producer accuses Ailes of demanding that she have sex with him and “anyone I tell you to” if she wanted her career advanced.

Other women accuse Ailes of harassment in the 1980’s. Kellie Boyle, who was a married Republican National Committee field adviser, alleges that Ailes told her, “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys”. When she refused his advances, Ailes allegedly had her blackballed by the RNC.

One of the most shocking allegations against Ailes is by Laurie Luhn, a former Fox News booking director. According to Ms. Luhn’s recent statements, she was sexually harassed by Ailes over a 20-year span, starting in the late 1980’s. She claims that Fox News executives not only knew about harassment, but also helped cover it up. She alleges that the sexual harassment began soon after she met Ailes in 1988, and continued on and off until approximately 2010 when Ms. Luhn finally reported the harassment to Fox News attorney Dianne Brandi. Brandi allegedly asked Ailes about the harassment, which sources say he vehemently denied. Despite the denial, Ailes, supposedly told Brandi to work out a settlement. In June, 2011, Luhn and Brandi signed a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions. The settlement bars her from ever suing Fox News over the harassment and precludes her from speaking to government authorities (EEOC, FBI) and the press.

The recent allegations against Ailes most likely would not have ended his career had they surfaced 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It was a different era and Rupert Murdoch ran Fox News. Now, employers (and the law) are less lenient and tolerant of sexual harassment. One thing is clear, over the last 20 years, Ailes built at Fox News a multi-billion dollar media juggernaut. But, in the end, he may be remembered as just another pervert who couldn’t keep it in his pants.

In an earlier post, I discussed what employees should do if they are being sexually harassed. Among other things, employees should tell the harasser to stop, and if that doesn’t work, they should report the harassment to appropriate persons at work (i.e. human resource department, supervisor, or upper management).

Once reported, California law requires employers to investigate the harassment, stop the harassment, and take effective actions to prevent further harassment.

EMPLOYERS MUST INVESTIGATE SEXUAL HARASSMENT COMPLAINTS 

Employers must investigate all sexual harassment complaints. The investigation must be thorough and objective. As part of the investigation, employers should interview everyone with information regarding the harassment. Once the investigation is over, the employer should discuss the results with the employee who reported the harassment, the harasser, and all other appropriate persons.

EMPLOYERS MUST STOP THE HARASSMENT AND CORRECT ANY DAMAGES

If the investigation reveals that an employee was sexually harassed, the employer must stop the harassment. This may involve suspending, re-assigning, demoting, or terminating the harasser. Whatever actions are taken to stop the harassment, California law requires those actions to be effective.

      • If a harasser sexually harassed a co-worker by walking around the office holding a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition magazine and commenting about how “hot” the models looked (e.g. “I bet you could fill out that bathing suit nicely”), it may be sufficient for the company to verbally reprimand the harasser.
      • But if the harasser also smacked an employee’s derrière and told the employee that she had a “swimsuit model’s butt,” then a verbal reprimand likely is not enough to ensure that the harassment will stop, particularly if the harasser has a history of engaging in similar conduct.

The employer also must tell the employee what actions were taken to stop the harassment and correct any damages from the harassment.

      • If your supervisor persistently tries to massage your shoulders and then demotes you for rejecting the massages, your employer must restore your position, compensate you for any lost wages and benefits flowing from the demotion, and basically fix any damages the harasser caused.

EMPLOYERS MUST PREVENT FURTHER HARASSMENT 

Employers must take steps to prevent sexual harassment. First, employers must have procedures for employees to report sexual harassment.  Second, employers must have policies that essentially condemn all forms of sexual harassment and disclose the consequences for engaging in sexual harassment.  The consequences should include termination.  And third, employers who do business in California and employ at least 50 or more employees mustprovide at least two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisory employee and to all new supervisory employees within six months from when they assumed their supervisory position.

This is only a brief discussion on sexual harassment laws and issues. If you think you are being sexually harassed, consult an attorney. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sexual harassment is more than the typical “you’ll get ahead in this company if you sleep with me” statement.  It isn’t always so obvious and direct.  The following are just some of the many forms of sexual harassment under California law.

EXAMPLES OF VERBAL AND WRITTEN SEXUAL HARASSMENT 

      • Asking a person out for dates or drinks or to have sex
      • Asking intrusive and sexually explicit questions, including questions about orientation or history
      • Making jokes about sex
      • Making sexual comments or innuendos, including graphic comments about a person’s body
      • Using sexually degrading words to describe someone
      • Using derogatory comments, slurs, or nicknames, like sweet tart, sex kitten, sexy or cutie
      • Name-calling, like slut, bitch, or whore
      • Rating a person’s sexuality or appearance

EXAMPLES OF PHYSICAL SEXUAL HARASSMENT

      • Making sexual advances
      • Giving or asking for kisses, hugs, or massages
      • Touching, patting, punching, stroking, squeezing, tickling or brushing against a person
      • Leering or staring at body parts, such as a woman’s breast or man’s derriere
      • Making sexual gestures
      • Impeding or blocking a person’s movement
      • Attempting or physically/sexually assaulting a person

EXAMPLES OF VISUAL SEXUAL HARASSMENT

      • Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, including pornography, with co-workers
      • Displaying or discussing sexually suggestive materials, objects, pictures, calendars, cartoons, or posters

EXAMPLES OF INTIMIDATION TYPE SEXUAL HARASSMENT

      • Spreading rumors about a person’s sexuality or sexual activities
      • Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
      • Threatening or bribing a person to succumb to sexual activity
      • Retaliating against a person for rejecting sexual advances or objecting to harassing conduct
      • Stalking a person

Because this only provides some of the many forms of sexual harassment, if you think you are being sexually harassed, consult an attorney. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

 

 

 

1.    TELL THE HARASSER TO STOP

Often harassers are oblivious that their behavior is unwanted, offensive, and downright creepy. Be direct.

        • Tell the harasser that you don’t enjoy his or her behavior
        • Be specific about the behavior you don’t enjoy
        • Demand the behavior to stop

For example, a manager repeatedly refers to you as his Sweet Tart. Tell the manager:

“I don’t like when you refer to me as your Sweet Tart. Please stop” 

Confirm the conversation in writing, keeping a copy for your records:

“As we discussed this morning, I would appreciate if you would stop referring to me as your Sweet Tart. I hope this will not negatively impact our working relationship”

Not all harassers can handle being told to stop. Some may negatively respond by making excuses, denying everything, accusing you of wrongdoing, running to management with complaints about you, or engaging in retaliatory conduct, such as demoting, reassigning or terminating you. Immediately consult an attorney if you have been retaliated against.

2.    DOCUMENT EVERYTHING

In a journal, write down:

        • A detail description of what occurred, including what was said or done and how you responded

Jake grabbed my waist with both hands as he passed me in the hall

Jake said, “You look delicious in that dress”

I pulled away and continued walking without saying anything

        • The date, time, location, and witnesses
        • Negative actions taken against you for rejecting the harassing behavior
        • A detail description of all meetings you’ve had with your employer about the harassment, including who was there, what was said, and what actions, if any, your employer indicated he or she would take
        • Any retaliation you experienced after complaining about the harassment

3.    REPORT THE HARASSMENT TO YOUR EMPLOYER

If telling the harasser to stop doesn’t work, report the harassment. See if your employee handbook provides procedures for reporting harassment. If it doesn’t, report the harassment to the human resources department. If your company doesn’t have a human resources department, report the harassment to your supervisor or upper management.

Report the harassment in writing, preferably via email so there is a record of the report being sent to the appropriate persons.

4.   TALK TO A LAWYER ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS AND OPTIONS

Consider filing a lawsuit, particularly if you suffered retaliation or if your company failed to investigate the harassment, stop the harassment, or take steps to prevent the harassment from happening again.

This is just a brief discussion on sexual harassment issues. You need to consult an attorney if you have been sexually harassed. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.