Gretchen Carlson of Fox News Files Suit Against Roger Ailes
Gretchen Carlson, the longtime Fox anchor, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday saying that Roger Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News, fired her from the network last month after she refused his sexual advances and complained to him about discriminatory treatment in the newsroom.
The startling accusations immediately transfixed the world of television news, where Mr. Ailes is a hugely influential figure known for demanding absolute loyalty from his employees.
A spokeswoman for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit — filed in Superior Court in New Jersey, where Mr. Ailes maintains a residence — portrays the Fox chairman as a loutish and serial sexual harasser, acusing him of ogling Ms. Carlson in his office, calling her “sexy” and making sexually charged comments about her physical appearance.
Ms. Carlson, who joined Fox in 2005, contends that during a meeting last fall to discuss her concerns that she was not being treated fairly, Mr. Ailes told her: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
When she rebuffed him, the lawsuit claims, Mr. Ailes retaliated by reducing Ms. Carlson’s salary, curtailing her on-air appearances and, ultimately, declining to renew her contract last month.
The suit arrives at a complex moment for Mr. Ailes, a towering figure in television and Republican politics who has overseen virtually every aspect of Fox News Channel over the cable network’s hugely successful two-decade run.
While he retains the loyalty of his corporate boss, Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Ailes has sometimes clashed with Mr. Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, who have ascended to the most senior leadership roles in Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. And Fox News, despite high ratings and big profits, has been less of a dominant political force in this year’s presidential election, with the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, publicly clashing with the network and some of its anchors.
Ms. Carlson’s suit, filed by the law firm Smith Mullinof Montclair, N.J., names Mr. Ailes as the sole defendant and seeks a variety of compensatory damages. Her lead attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said in an interview that Ms. Carlson’s grievance was with Mr. Ailes personally, not the Fox network.
Mr. Ailes is known as a fierce public-relations warrior who can be ruthless with enemies, and it is rare for him to be taken on so directly by a prominent person in his industry. Ms. Carlson can be self-deprecating on-air, but she is working with a formidable team: Ms. Smith once brought a sexual harassment suit against a former acting governor of New Jersey, and Ms. Carlson’s husband, Casey Close, is a powerful sports agent known for tenacious negotiating on behalf of clients like Derek Jeter.
Ms. Smith, the lawyer, said that other women who said they had similar experiences with Mr. Ailes had contacted her, although she declined to name them. A 2014 biography of Mr. Ailes, by the journalist Gabriel Sherman, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,’’ recounted an episode in 1980s, when Mr. Ailes was at NBC, involving a woman named Randi Harrison who said he offered her an extra $100 a week in salary in exchange for having sex with him “whenever I want.” (Fox News denied the claim at the time.)
The allegations by Ms. Carlson are sure to roil the ranks of Fox News, with Ms. Carlson describing a boys’ club environment that extends beyond Mr. Ailes.
In her suit, Ms. Carlson contends that, in 2009, she complained to the network about her co-host on the popular “Fox & Friends” morning show, Steve Doocy, saying he belittled her on the set, openly mocked her among colleagues and once tried to shush her during a live broadcast by pulling down her arm.
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Ms. Carlson’s announcement of her lawsuit on Wednesday was carefully coordinated. A public-relations firm distributed copies of the complaint to reporters across a variety of disciplines. Shortly afterward, on Twitter, Ms. Carlson offered thanks for an “outpouring of support” and introduced a hashtag: #StandWithGretchen. By the afternoon, a link to her lawsuit was prominently posted on her personal website.
Hours later, Fox News, which is famously quick to counter even slight criticisms, still had not issued a response.