I’ve never read a narrative as exemplary of workplace sexual harassment as today’s New York Times article on Fox News.
Let it serve as a primer for every career woman who faces this kind of ugliness, tries to evade it and is fired as a result.
Current and former employees describe instances of sexual harassment and intimidation, suggesting that Roger Ailes’s exit may not be the end of the network’s woes.
Read it, and you’ll understand the maze women can be trapped in when pressured to provide sexual favors at work.
A couple of paragraphs highlight the difficulties women face when settling cases involving rejected sexual harassment and quid pro quo termination.
In 2006, after nearly a decade at CNN, Rudi Bakhtiar came to the Fox News Channel’s headquarters in New York with a command of foreign policy, an appealing personality and a delivery that easily switched between light and serious.
After a six-month freelance arrangement, the network signed her to a three-year deal. Pretty quickly, she said, she was spending half her time in Washington, where the network sent her to fill in temporarily as a weekend correspondent, a post she hoped to win permanently.
Her break seemed to come in early 2007, she said, when she met for coffee in the lobby of her Washington hotel with a friend and colleague, Brian Wilson. He told her he would soon become Washington bureau chief and wanted to help her get the weekend job. Then he said, “You know how I feel about you, Rudi.”
Recalling the encounter in a recent phone interview, Ms. Bakhtiar said she was thrilled and told Mr. Wilson she would make him proud. But, she said, he repeated himself, asking, “You know how I feel about you?” When she asked him what he meant, he said, “Well, I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room,” adding that he wanted a friends-with-benefits relationship.
She politely rebuffed him, she said, apologizing for giving him any wrong impression. After that rejection, she felt caught in a whirlwind in which, she said, network executives canceled her Washington appearances, directed her to report her allegations to human resources and, a few weeks later, let her go, with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, telling her that her tenure was ending because of her performance. On Saturday, a senior Fox News executive repeated that assertion.
In a short time, she went from thinking she was in line to land the job she coveted to unemployment. After a mediation process, she reached a settlement in which Fox News paid her an undisclosed amount.
Then, in the final paragraphs, you learn how the non-disclosure clause in her settlement might inflict further indignities upon Ms. Bahkiar for speaking out now:
Ms. Bakhtiar, who now works as a producer for Reuters, said she was risking a lawsuit to speak out because her experience “ruined my life” and also because she said she believed that “this environment has to change.”
When The Times contacted Fox News on Thursday about Ms. Bakhtiar’s story, the network contacted her old lawyer…to warn her that she was in breach of her agreement. She decided to go forward anyway.
“What are they going to do? Come after me for money? Garnish my wages? It’ll make a bigger story out of it,” she said. “I just feel like I shut up because I didn’t want to hurt my career,” she said. “It’s awful what happened to me, and to other people, with a nod from management.”
Good for her and good for us that she’s speaking out, but yes–going after her money is precisely what Fox can and might do. It’s that non-disclosure clause.