It was humming along, the major cable news network in America, raking in billions in profits.
Now Fox News has lost (forced out) its visionary chief executive officer, Roger Ailes, and its top star, Bill OReilly, both accused of sexual harassing female subordinates for decades. Fox paid Ailes and OReilly tens of millions in severance to leave, not to mention millions in damages to their alleged victims.
And now Fox is reeling from a second wave of discrimination complaints – this time involving race discrimination. A Fox News spokesperson has denied the claims and said the network will “vigorously defend these cases.”
Two black women who worked in the Fox News payroll department, Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, filed a race discrimination lawsuit in New York state court on March 28 alleging that Fox Controller Judith Slater, who was fired by Fox on Feb. 28, subjected “dark-skinned employees” to racial animus.
Eleven past and present Fox workers joined the lawsuit Tuesday, complaining that they were humiliated, paid less than white coworkers and passed over for promotions.
Kelly Wright, a two-time Emmy award winner and former long-time co-host of Fox and Friends. Wright complains that he was “effectively sidelined” because of his race and “asked to perform the role of a ‘Jim Crow’ – the racist caricature of a Black entertainer.”
Meanwhile, Adasa Blanco, who worked in Fox News’ accounts payable department from 2005 to 2013, filed a separate race discrimination lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. She claims Fox knew about Slater “for more than eight years and then feigned … to the media and public that it terminated her immediately upon learning that she engaged in discriminatory conduct.”
One is left to wonder what would have happened if 21st Century Fox, the owner of Fox News, had made it clear to Ailes a couple of decades ago that the company was actually serious about its anti-harassment policy? And what if 21st Century Fox had insisted that everyone, including Ailes, was required to follow that policy.
Harassment complaints often are difficult for a company. They sometimes boil down to “he said, she said.” When that happens, the Human Resources Department has tools in its arsenal to ferret out the truth.
At some point, for example, Fox could have commissioned a “360 degree” survey of all workers in Judith Slater’s department to ascertain whether these workers felt that they were being subjected to discriminatory animus. Corrective measures could have been put in place, including Slater’s ouster.
The saga of Fox News should serve as a wake-up call to every American employer.
If you don’t have an anti-harassment policy, you should adopt one. If you have one, you should enforce it, from the top down.
Failure to adopt and enforce an anti-harassment policy can lead to unnecessary (and sometimes even fatal) wounds that are all the more painful because they are self-inflicted.