Some public figures appear to be immune to charges of sexual harassment. This immunity usually attaches to celebrities such as network news anchors or stars of commercially successful entertainment shows. A localized form of this immunity frequently attaches itself to local celebrities such as a local newscaster or host of a local variety program. The recent cases involving Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein may indicate that this immunity is waning, and further evidence just arrived in the news that two female Fox News employees sued newscaster Ed Henry after the network fired him for sexual harassment.
The lawsuit against Henry was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan a few days after he was fired by the network. Henry’s firing was the culmination of an investigation that was started when two female employees, one a producer and the other a commentator, alleged that Henry had subjected them to various kinds of sexual harassment, including violent sex and rape. The assistant producer alleged that Henry coerced her into a sexual relationship by promising that her cooperation would benefit her career. The co-plaintiff also alleged similar violations by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Howard Kurtz. The lawsuit also alleged that the network supported an environment where powerful male hosts often flirted with junior female personnel, promising career advancement in exchange for sex.
Fox did not challenge the allegations made against Henry. Instead, Fox investigated the allegations and fired Henry a few days after it learned of the claims. The network denied the claims against Carlson, Hannity and Kurtz.
This lawsuit is many months, if not years, from delivering a final outcome. Many such cases settle long before trial to avoid the huge expense of a trial and to prevent damaging allegations from becoming public. This case, however, demonstrates that female employees who retain competent employment lawyers are no longer lack an effective remedy when powerful males at their workplace attempt to use a promise of career advancement as an inducement to a sexual relationship.