Fox settles Roger Ailes sexual harassment suit, apologises

Roger Ailes walks with his wife Elizabeth Tilson as they leave the News Corp building, July 19, 2016, in New York City.
Roger Ailes walks with his wife Elizabeth Tilson as they leave the News Corp building, July 19, 2016, in New York City.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fox News said on Tuesday (Sept 6) that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by former news host Gretchen Carlson against cable channel boss Roger Ailes for a reported US$20 million (S$27 million), and apologised for her treatment on the job.

A statement offered no details on the settlement, but the magazine Vanity Fair, citing sources familiar with the case, said Fox would pay the multi-million dollar sum to the journalist and former Miss America.

The statement by the parent firm 21st Century Fox said, "We sincerely regret and apologise for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve."

The New York Times also reported the US$20 million figure and said Fox was in settlement talks with other women who had come forward with harassment claims after Carlson's lawsuit.

The lawsuit led to the resignation of the politically powerful Ailes, a confidante of media magnate Rupert Murdoch who helped build Fox into a leader in cable news.

In the statement, Carlson said she was "gratified" with the settlement and added, "I'm ready to move on to the next chapter of my life in which I will redouble my efforts to empower women in the workplace."

Ailes, 76, had denied allegations that he had sought to pressure Carlson into a sexual relationship, but the lawsuit led to reports of other women coming forward to support Carlson's allegations of a hostile work environment.

Carlson, a top Fox personality, had been with the network for more than a decade.

According to the lawsuit, Ailes "unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment."

Ailes fired Carlson, the complaint said, on June 23 after "ostracising, marginalising and shunning her" and making it clear that "these 'problems' would not have existed, and could be solved if she had a sexual relationship with him."

The lawsuit sparked turmoil at Fox, built by Ailes and Murdoch two decades ago into the leading cable news channel.

Under Ailes, Fox became home to key conservative political commentators, drawing an audience distinct from rivals CNN and MSNBC.

Ailes, a former consultant to Republican presidents as far back as Richard Nixon, has reportedly been an informal adviser to the party's current nominee Donald Trump.

Murdoch assumed interim control at Fox News Channel after Ailes stepped down in July.

However, Murdoch's sons had been taking a larger role in operations since the 85-year-old tycoon announced he was gradually easing control of his corporate empire, which includes 21st Century Fox and the global publishing group News Corp.