NEW YORK (AP) — The New York City Commission
on Human Rights
fined Fox News
$1 million, the largest penalty in the company's history
, for violating laws prohibiting sexual harassment
and retaliation on the job.
Fox agreed to mandate anti-harassment training for its New York-based staff and contributors as part of a settlement agreement announced Tuesday, as well as to temporarily suspend a policy requiring people
who allege misconduct to enter binding arbitration.
The penalty is the result of an investigation
that began in 2017 in response to several reports of “rampant abuse
” at the popular news and opinion outlet, according to the commission.
The first sign of trouble at the channel came in 2016, when former anchor Gretchen Carlson claimed that now-deceased network chief Roger Ailes had made unwanted advances and derailed her career when she turned him down. Both Ailes and former Fox personality Bill O'Reilly were fired due to misconduct allegations.
Several other women
, including former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, have filed lawsuits and made their own allegations of harassment.
The $1 million fine was divided into four separate “willful and wanton” violations, each with a maximum penalty of $250,000. The commission refused to identify the people involved in those cases or say whether there were more.
Human rights officials expressed hope that the severe penalty would deter bad behavior in any workplace
“If people dare to break the law and discriminate or harass others, they will face harsh penalties,” said Carmelyn Malalis, chairwoman of the city Commission on Human Rights.
The commission stated that it did not interview
anyone who came forward after Suzanne Scott, the current CEO
of Fox News Media
, took over in 2018. Fox has described the cases as the result of a previous regime and has stated that the network has cleaned up its act under her leadership.
“We are pleased to reach an amicable resolution of this legacy matter,” Fox said in a statement, adding that “Fox News Media has already been in full compliance across the board, but has worked with the New York City Commission on Human Rights to continue enacting extensive preventive measures against all forms of discrimination
According to the commission, women who turned down advances were punished with fewer on-air appearances, poor work assignments, and having their text messages
According to the network's findings, Fox News "ensured that those who have complained have no future" at the network.
In addition to the training requirement, the commission stated that Fox must maintain an anonymous hotline for employees to report harassment or job retaliation. Fox's compliance will be audited four times over the next two years by outside inspectors.
Malalis expressed hope that the provision requiring Fox not to insist on mandatory arbitration to settle disputes — forums that frequently benefit employers and keep allegations secret — will serve as a model for future similar settlements, which will be in place for four years.
“This is the essence of ‘me, too,’” she said, adding, “We’re putting it out there so people, whether at Fox News or another corporation, can say, ‘This is happening to me.’”
People with complaints will have a choice of where to have their complaints heard, she said, adding that the settlement does not affect confidentiality agreements, in which some employees who leave a company as a result of the misdeeds of others agree not to discuss the matter in exchange for monetary compensation.
Malalis said she couldn't comment on the current working environment
at Fox because, like many other companies, many of its employees have been absent due to the pandemic
“I'm not there and can't see what their day-to-day operations are,” she explained, “but it was the intention of this agreement to shape what is going on at Fox now and certainly what will happen at Fox in the future.”
The commission has filed 521 claims of gender-based workplace harassment since 2017, assessing $4.5 million in damages and penalties.