Longtime Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a bombshell sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Fox News chief Roger Ailes fired her because she pushed back against rampant sexism at the network and rebuffed Ailes’ attempts to establish a sexual relationship.
Carlson’s complaint, filed in New Jersey Superior Court on Wednesday, alleges that Ailes “sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
According to Carlson, Ailes acted in a sexist manner towards her on numerous occasions, commenting repeatedly about her legs, “asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior,” and telling her that she was “sexy,” but “too much hard work.”
Carlson also says that her former “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy “engaged in a pattern of severe and pervasive sexual harassment” of her and “regularly treated her in a sexist and condescending way.”
After Carlson complained to Ailes about Doocy’s behavior, she says Ailes retaliated against her by assigning her fewer high-profile interviews and eventually firing her from “Fox & Friends.”
In September 2015, Carlson says she met with Ailes in an attempt to stop the discriminatory treatment. According to Carlson’s complaint, Ailes responded by suggesting that the issue could have been best addressed sexually: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” Ailes allegedly said, adding that “sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way.
Fox News terminated Carlson’s employment on June 23, 2016.
Carlson’s allegations are not the first such complaints leveled at Ailes.
New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman recounted a number of anecdotes purporting to exhibit Ailes’ sexism in “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” his 2014 book chronicling the history of Ailes and Fox News.
When Ailes was serving as the executive producer of an NBC late-night show in the 1980s, Sherman reports that a female staffer complained to Ailes during salary negotiations that his $400-a-week offer was too low.
“If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week,” Ailes allegedly responded.
“I was in tears by the time I hit the street,” the staffer later recalled.
A Fox News spokesperson later refuted the story.
On another occasion, during a job interview with Shelley Ross, who would go on to become the executive producer of “Good Morning America,” Sherman reports that Ailes “posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance. ‘This is making me uncomfortable,’ Ross recalled telling Ailes.”
Sherman’s book, which Ailes and Fox News have roundly dismissed, also relates several examples of sexist comments Ailes allegedly made towards female anchors at Fox, which Media Matters has collected into a single post:
- “Anchor Bob Sellers remembered Ailes once calling the control booth. ‘I was doing the weekend show with Kiran Chetry. He called up and said, ‘Move that damn laptop, I can’t see her legs!’ “
- “No one was spared from Ailes’s eruptions. He vented constantly about his talent. […;] When Gretchen Carlson’s name came up, Ailes pointed out she was once Miss America, then added, ‘It must not have been a good year.’ “
- ” ‘[Ailes] had admiration for [Former Fox News anchor Catherine Crier’s] legs,’ a senior executive said. In one meeting, Ailes barked, ‘Tell Catherine I did not spend x-number of dollars on a glass desk for her to wear pant suits.’ “
Gretchen Carlson said in 2013 that she was not allowed to wear pants on the air during her time as a “Fox & Friends” co-host.
Ailes’ fondness for female anchors’ bare legs is characterized by Fox’s use of what staffers reportedly refer to as the “leg cam,” a camera strategically positioned to highlight the figure of hosts such as Andrea Tantaros, whom Ailes once reportedly referred to as “The Leg.”
In 1994, Ailes, who was then running CNBC, appeared on Don Imus’ radio program and made disparaging remarks about two of his employees, joking that then-CNBC hosts Mary Matalin and Jane Wallace were like “girls who if you went into a bar around seven, you wouldn’t pay a lot of attention, but [they] get to be tens around closing time.”
“He had no right to say something like that,” Wallace later said. “He was our boss. It was completely sexist. It was disgusting. It was outrageous. I thought it was a hideously awful thing to say.”
However, as Sherman reports, Wallace never expressed her anger directly to Ailes. “I didn’t say so out loud,” she explained. “I was working for the guy.”