Texas residents who have seen the movie “Bombshell” will know that the film deals with a sexual harassment scandal involving the late Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Gretchen Carlson, who is played by Nicole Kidman in the film, was the first Fox News anchor to publicly accuse Ailes of inappropriate behavior, but she was not able to participate in or contribute to the project because of a non-disclosure agreement she signed when she joined the media company.
Carlson spoke at length about the NDAs Fox News requires its employees to sign in an interview published in October 2019 by Vanity Fair. She said in the interview that the agreements leave women who suffered sexual harassment while working at Fox no opportunity to tell their side of the story when they are maligned in the media. In a lawsuit filed against Fox News in 2016, Carlson claimed that sexual harassment was rampant and condoned at Fox News. The lawsuit was subsequently settled for a reported $20 million.
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Fox News is not the only network to find itself at the center of a sexual harassment controversy. NBC executives were criticized in a book by Ronan Farrow of covering up Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and failing to address the inappropriate behavior of stars including Matt Lauer. NBC denied the allegations and allowed its former employees to speak out by releasing them from their NDAs.
The victims of sexual harassment are often reluctant to step forward, and this may be particularly true when they have signed NDAs. Attorneys with experience in this area could cite the Carlson case when pointing out that victims may pursue civil remedies successfully even if they have an NDA in place. The case also reveals that employers are often willing to settle these matters discreetly to avoid further publicity and embarrassment.