Fox Settles Discrimination Lawsuits for Roughly $10 Million

Posted May 15, 2018 8:01 p.m. EDT

Attempting to put to rest a drama that has plagued Fox News since the summer of 2016, the network’s parent company has reached a roughly $10 million settlement to resolve a group of racial and gender discrimination lawsuits involving 18 current and former employees, according to a document viewed by The New York Times and three people briefed on the deal.

The settlements reached by Twenty-First Century Fox include the class action racial discrimination lawsuit filed last year by anchor Kelly Wright and several employees in the Fox News accounting department. Their lawsuit said that they had repeatedly complained about “abhorrent, intolerable, unlawful and hostile racial discrimination” to network executives but that no action was taken and that the inappropriate behavior continued.

Also included in the settlement were the race, gender and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought in 2016 by a former reporter for Fox 5, the network’s New York affiliate, and a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a Fox News Radio reporter.

According to the document viewed by The Times, terms of the deal included that the employees would agree to drop their claims, leave the network and not seek future employment at Fox News or other Twenty-First Century Fox companies. The settlement specifically included a buyout of Wright’s contract with Fox News, where he was the only black male anchor. Fox News has denied the allegations made in the various suits.

In a joint statement, a Fox News spokeswoman and Douglas H. Wigdor, a lawyer for the employees involved, said, “The parties have reached mutual agreements that resolve various cases involving former Fox News employees.”

Wright informed Fox News on Tuesday of his “desire to pursue new opportunities,” the network and Wigdor said in statements. In the statements, the network thanked Wright “for his contributions over the years”; and Wright thanked Fox News and “wishes it well as he moves forward to the next phase of his career.”

The agreement represents a push by Fox News and Twenty-First Century Fox to move past the negative attention drawn by scandals — including sexual harassment claims — that led to sweeping changes at the top of the network: the ousting of the network’s founding chairman, Roger Ailes; Bill O’Reilly, the top-rated host on cable news; and several other employees. The controversy also prompted a criminal investigation into Fox News’ handling of sexual harassment complaints.

The drama burst into public view in July 2016, when former anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment. After Ailes was forced out of the network and Carlson received a $20 million settlement, several other employees came forward with sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination claims. Some disputes were settled confidentially, while others became public lawsuits, leading to a steady drumbeat of negative headlines and mounting legal costs.

By the end of last June, Twenty-First Century Fox had incurred about $50 million in costs in the previous year that were tied to the settlement of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations at Fox News.

Several of the lawsuits were handled by Wigdor, a self-described conservative Republican who has said that he was at war with Fox News. Wigdor has been a vocal critic of what he described as a systemic culture of discrimination at Fox News, frequently speaking to the media and even testifying before the British regulators reviewing Twenty-First Century Fox’s $15 billion bid for Sky, the European satellite giant. (Wigdor’s firm also represented clients in a racial discrimination suit against The New York Times.)

The roughly $10 million agreement, while still a significant sum, is far less than the more than $60 million that Wigdor had proposed last summer. At the time, Wigdor had pointed out how Twenty-First Century Fox had paid $40 million to Ailes and $25 million to O’Reilly, and said, “Outside the context of the mediation, any amount under what Ailes and O’Reilly got in total would be unjust.” The deal called for Wigdor, along with a mediator, to provide a breakdown of how the money will be distributed to each plaintiff. According to a person briefed on the matter, one person received nothing, while others received large sums. The total $10 million payment includes lawyer fees, which typically come to about a third.

A confidentiality clause in the deal forbids the parties from discussing the payment amounts and other company information, including the compensation of and settlements with other employees, but does not prevent them from telling their stories.

Not included in the settlement are two other lawsuits involving clients of Wigdor, although he has filed motions to withdraw as the lawyer for both cases. That includes a defamation and racial-discrimination lawsuit against Twenty-First Century Fox and Fox News that focused on an article about the death of Seth Rich, a young aide for the Democratic National Committee. The suit claims that the White House and a wealthy supporter of President Donald Trump pushed Fox News to publish an article on its website as part of a scheme to end speculation about the president’s ties to Russia. The company has said that the case lacks merit.

Also excluded from the settlement was the lawsuit filed by political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, who claimed that she had been raped by longtime anchor Charles Payne and was then retaliated against by the network after she came forward with the allegation. Payne, who remains on the air, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Calling the lawsuit “bogus” and “downright shameful,” Fox filed a motion to dismiss the case. In recent weeks, the judge overseeing the cases in U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed some of Hughes’ claims and upheld others.