Gretchen Carlson, the Anoka native who parlayed her stint as Miss America into a high-profile role at Fox News Channel, is suing her former boss Roger Ailes, claiming he fired her after she refused his sexual advances and cited unfair treatment toward her by male colleagues.
In the suit, filed Wednesday in Bergen County, New Jersey, Carlson alleges that Ailes “unlawfully retaliated” against her and “sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
According to her lawyers, Fox News terminated her contract on June 23, the day her latest contract expired, after 11 years at the station.
“Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false,” Ailes said in a statement Wednesday. “This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.”
Carlson, whose stint on “Fox & Friends” was so well known she was parodied on “Saturday Night Live,” is claiming that Ailes told her last September that the two of them “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.”
She also is calling out former “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy for creating a “hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way.” She said that upon complaining to Ailes, she was called a “man hater” who needed to learn to “get along with the boys.”
Carlson is alleging that her move to host the afternoon talker “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” in 2013 was Ailes’ way of lowering her profile and justifying a reduced salary.
Said Ailes, “When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, Fox News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
In a story she wrote for the Huffington Post last year, Carlson detailed three episodes where she had been sexually harassed before landing at Fox.
“Sexual harassment can really affect you for a long time and I want more women to come forward,” she told the Star Tribune during a book tour last year.
In her 2015 memoir, “Getting Real,” she details a situation with a deranged man who believed they were in a romantic relationship. He sent her delusional love letters for years; moved to Richmond, Va., after she got a reporting job there; said he’d bought her an engagement ring, and even showed up on her parents’ doorstep in Anoka.
“He was smart enough to never really cross the line, yet it felt life-threatening,” she wrote. “My mom and dad thought then that I should stop being on TV.”
Past accusations against Ailes
In 2015, Carlson told the Star Tribune that Ailes was “the most accessible boss I’ve ever worked for,” someone who “always has the capacity to surprise.”
While an executive at NBC, Ailes was accused of making sexually suggestive comments to various female underlings, according to a 2014 biography of Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” A young woman named Randi Harrison said Ailes offered to increase her salary by $100 a week if she would have sex with him, according to the book. A producer named Shelley Ross said Ailes posed “romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance.” Ross said she told him, “This is making me uncomfortable.”
Ailes also made disparaging remarks in a radio interview in 1994 about the appearance of Mary Matalin and Jane Wallace, who were hosts at CNBC under Ailes, according to the book.
Nancy Erika Smith, Carlson’s attorney, said she intends to call other women who have alleged harassment by Ailes to testify at Carlson’s trial. Fox was not named as a party to the lawsuit, Smith said, because “to our knowledge, the alleged harassment wasn’t authorized by Fox. In fact, [Fox] has policies that prohibit this kind of behavior.”
The state’s last Miss America
Carlson, the last Minnesotan to serve as Miss America (1989), was a standout student at Anoka, earning valedictorian honors in 1984 and served as concertmaster of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. She graduated in 1990 with a B.A. in sociology from Stanford University. She has two children with husband, Casey Close, a sports agent whose clients have included Derek Jeter and former Minnesota Twin Michael Cuddyer.
“I joke about hitting the bimbo trifecta when I was hired there — blonde, Miss America and working at Fox,” she said last year. “I graduated with honors from Stanford and studied at Oxford, but when people don’t want to debate you on ideas, it’s easy to call me the dumb blonde from Fox.”
Just a few days before being fired at Fox, Carlson contributed a column to the Star Tribune, promoting her upcoming duties as host of the Miss You Can Do It Pageant, which celebrates girls and young women with special needs and challenges.
“I hope you will take this journey with me as fellow Minnesotans to honor the strength and determination of some pretty incredible girls,” she said, toting the July 30 ceremonies in Illinois. “Together, we can all help change the way ‘beauty’ is defined and self-worth is defined.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 • @nealjustin
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