Last time, we looked briefly at the case of Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor whose contract the network declined to renew over the summer and who subsequently accused former network CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment and retaliation. Since last week, the case has come to a swift close with the news that Carlson reached a $20 million settlement agreement with the network.
The settlement includes not only the above figure, which is said to be unprecedented in size for a sexual harassment case involving an individual, but also a public apology. The fact that the settlement comes only two months after Carlson filed suit could be an indication not only of the strength of Carlson’s claims, but also of the network’s desire to bring the case quickly out of the limelight.
The public apology, according to legal analysts, is significant because it is very common for businesses to settle without admitting any wrongdoing but only admitting a desire to put the litigation aside and avoid the costs and hassle of litigation. It is also significant because it could open Fox up to liability in other cases. Since Carlson filed her lawsuit in July, at least 20 additional women claimed to have been harassed by Ailes in their time with the network.
In sexual harassment cases, proving discriminatory intent is not necessarily an easy matter. Without obtaining statements that demonstrate discriminatory intent, plaintiffs usually have to rely on circumstantial evidence. In cases involving claims of retaliation, there is often the similar difficulty of demonstrating retaliatory intent. Employees typically will offer an alternative explanation for adverse treatment of an employee, and the employee often has to rely on circumstantial evidence here as well.
In any sexual harassment case, of course, it is critical to work with an experienced attorney to build the strongest possible case and provide strategic advocacy.