In an editorial on the recent ouster of host Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, the New York Times noted that the Fox action “has opened another window into sexual abuse of women at Fox and in the workplace generally.”
But, as the Times observes, the “serial nature” of the alleged abuse and Fox’s response to it, is “a reminder that exposing wrongdoing is no guarantee of change.”
Fox announced last week that it was severing ties with Mr. O’Reilly after a “thorough and careful review of the allegations.” On April 20, the Times reported O’Reilly is to receive a payout of as much as $25 million, equivalent to one year of his salary.
The Times editorial points out that O’Reilly’s ouster was prompted not by the abuse allegations themselves—the company had long known of the allegations. Fox’s action came after dozens of advertisers pulled their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor” and Fox’s stock price dropped.
The attorneys at Parker Waichman have long worked to obtain justice for victims of all forms of abuse and harassment, whether it occurs in the workplace, in schools, or in nursing homes or care facilities.
Founding Chairman also Ousted amid Harassment Allegations
O’Reilly’s departure came nine months after the network’s founding chairman, Roger E. Ailes, was ousted in a sexual harassment scandal. At the time of Ailes’s departure, Fox executives said there was no room for “behavior that disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.” But Ailes received a $40 million package when he left. In all, Fox has paid at least $85 million to resolve the Ailes and O’Reilly allegations. As much as $65 million went to the two men, in the form of exit pay.
Critics of Fox say the huge payment to O’Reilly sends a message that a powerful figure could profit even after multiple sexual harassment allegations had been made against him. The Times notes that Fox’s actions do not demonstrate accountability nor is this a deterrent to sexual abuse and harassment. Rather, Fox’s response demonstrates “the entrenched reality of practices that have discounted, demeaned and derailed women’s work lives for decades.” Those practices include not only sexual harassment but also persistent pay and promotion disparities, and “structural impediments” like child care, scheduling and other workplace policies.
In an April 1 article on its investigation into O’Reilly, the Times reported it had found a total of five women who have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or from Fox in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. According to the Times, two settlements were made after Roger Ailes was dismissed last summer. The agreements with the women totaled about $13 million. The Times said its story was based on more than “five dozen interviews with current and former employees of Fox News and its former and current parent companies, News Corporation and 21st Century Fox; representatives for the network; and people close to Mr. O’Reilly and the women.” Most of the individuals who spoke with the Times did so on the condition of anonymity. They cited confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation. The Times also examined documents and court filings related to the complaints.
The Times reports that in one instance, a public relations firm was hired to “help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor.” A private investigator attempted to find negative information about Andrea Makris, a woman who had raised allegations against O’Reilly. In several stories in the tabloids, she was portrayed as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Makris about $9 million, according to people familiar with the agreement.
The women who made allegations against O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. The women’s complaints are varied; the behavior described includes verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances, and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews reported by the Times.
In addition to the women who reached settlements, two other women have reported inappropriate behavior by O’Reilly. Wendy Walsh, a regular guest on the show, told the Times that after she rebuffed an advance from O’Reilly he did not follow through on a verbal offer to secure her a lucrative position at the network.
Fox declined to answer questions about whether Mr. O’Reilly had ever been disciplined over abuse and harassment allegations.
Legal Help for Victims of Sexual Abuse and Harassment
If you or someone you know has suffered sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace, in the experienced attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can provide a free, no-obligation case evaluation of your legal options. Contact Parker Waichman by filling out the online form or by calling 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).