Saying ‘Sorry’ for Sexual Harassment
Gretchen Carlson, former FOX News Channel host, recently settled her sexual harassment case against FOX News Channel Chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, for $20 million. This case is extraordinary in several respects – and not just because of the amount of the settlement, which The Washington Post reported is the highest paid to a single plaintiff in a pre-trial settlement for a sexual harassment case. The resolution of the Carlson case is rare because of the apology that went along with the settlement and that the terms were made public.
In our experience, the first thing that most complainants ask for is an apology, but in all the years that we have investigated sexual harassment cases, an apology is never part of the final remedy. Moreover, most out-of-court settlements impose strict confidentiality prohibitions on discussing the terms of the settlement.
So, is there a lesson here for employers? At Workplace FactFinders, we say a resounding “yes!” The Carlson case has changed the discourse on sexual harassment claims on several levels. The overarching implication of this case, which is already being called a “landmark” in sexual harassment legal circles, is that employers need to take sexual harassment claims seriously. Remember that film from 1980 called “9-to-5?” Well, those days of Dabney Coleman chasing Dolly Parton around the desk with no accountability are becoming a thing of the past. In our opinion, the impact of the Carlson case should motivate employers to reevaluate and buttress their harassment training and policies. In addition, the Carlson settlement is a wake-up call to all managers and employees that no one is exempt from liability for sexual harassment claims. Perhaps most importantly, the fact that the terms of the Carlson settlement were publicly disclosed may encourage more victims of sexual harassment to report their abuse. No longer do sexual harassment claims need to be discussed in whispers and relegated to the shadows. And, because of the courage of Gretchen Carlson, apologies are now on the negotiating table.
If you want to mitigate your exposure to sexual harassment claims, or review your employment policies in general, please contact Cynthia Fenton or Stephanie Woodhead at Workplace FactFinders for a complimentary consultation.
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