After reports of former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson’s $20 million settlement with the network over allegations of sexual harassment by then CEO Roger Ailes, several more allegations against Ailes began to surface, with a number of female employees claiming they, too, had been harassed by him. Some chose to remain anonymous, while others chose to go public. Former anchor Andrea Tantaros chose the latter, filing a lawsuit against Ailes, his replacement Bill Shine, and a number of executives still employed by Fox. The suit alleges Tantaros was the target of demeaning and inappropriate comments made by Ailes, as well as retaliation by top executives whom she claims planted unflattering and untrue stories about her in the press. Lawyers for Fox News have fired back, claiming Tantaros is only seeking a public court hearing for self-promoting purposes; namely, to market and sell her book. As was the case with Carlson, Fox News employees have a forced arbitration clause in their contract which states any legal issues must be resolved behind closed doors with the company’s team of lawyers in order to protect the reputation of both the accused and the network itself. Tantaros’s suit alleges, in part, the network “masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” She is seeking a multi-million dollar payout.
In response, the network has asked the judge in the case to send it to arbitration, as stipulated in Tantaros’s employment agreement, after previously referring to her as a spotlight-loving opportunist. However, Tantaros’s lawyer argued the arbitration clause in her contract is no longer valid because the network violated its terms by leaking disparaging information about her to the press, as well as subjecting her to unanticipated persecution and revenge in response to her allegations of Ailes’ unprofessional conduct. Tantaros also submitted an affidavit from a psychologist who provided therapy to her that states he heard her complain about Ailes and other executives back in 2014; the affidavit was provided to certain members of the press by her lawyer, Judd Berstein, before she filed her opposition to arbitration.
In reaction to her submission, attorneys for the network filed a response, with court papers reading, “The affidavit is completely irrelevant to this Motion, as demonstrated by the fact that it is not cited even once in the ‘Argument’ section of her memorandum of law. As Plaintiff hoped, however, her ploy generated another firestorm of publicity, including her appearance on ‘Good Morning America,’ with her counsel at her side, to discuss her claims against Fox News, while she was still employed by Fox News. This is a Court of law, not a circus to showcase Plaintiff’s publicity stunts. This Court should compel Plaintiff to honor her contractual obligation to arbitrate in confidence all claims arising from or relating to her employment by Fox News.”
Berstein issued his own statement saying, “This new evidence has left Fox News and the other defendants reeling. With the option of falsely attacking Ms. Tantaros’s character and truthfulness no longer available, the defendants have nothing left other than the disingenuous argument that Ms. Tantaros’s compelling proof of the misconduct and abuse that she suffered is now ‘gratuitous.'”
He further requested the network make public the details of an internal investigation into the harassment claims against Ailes and other staff, as well as an unredacted version of an email Berstein sent that Fox News included in their latest filing in redacted form. Berstein urged the network to release both before hosting the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday of this week.
Whether the judge decides to allow the case to move forward in open court or sends it to arbitration remains to be seen.