Is Bill O’Reilly’s Time Up? Fox News Advertisers Pack Up After Multiple Harassment Settlements

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Reports have surfaced that the Fox News Network has paid out settlements in excess of $13 million dollars in order to remedy several sexual harassment lawsuits levied against the channel’s star anchor Bill O’Reilly. Since the revelations appeared late last week, several high paying advertisers have pulled their funds from the top-rated television show The O’Reilly Factor. 

Political commentator Bill O’Reilly (67) is no stranger to controversy. The New York native is paid handsomely by Fox News to relay his political opinions on television on a daily basis. Most of his views can be seen as conservative, and when a guest appears on his show who happens to disagree with those views, he has been known to engage in an absurd shouting match or two. Of course, all of this is par for the course on the rabble-rousing Fox News television station. Therefore, O’Reilly’s TV show has soared in the ratings as the network welcomes one altercation after another. Recently, O’Reilly has been embroiled in another dispute involving an alleged long history of sexual harassment and expensive lawsuit settlements. This latest quarrel could finally be the end of O’Reilly, because this blow hits Fox News where it hurts, in their pockets.

Accusations of sexual harassment against O’Reilly and Fox News are apparently nothing new. According to a report in the New York Times, late last year a payment of more than $1 million went to Laurie Dhue.  She was a news anchor at the channel from 2000 to 2008.  The settlement was reached after her lawyers presented sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly and former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. Additionally, a report was unveiled on Saturday that two additional women who accused O’Reilly of harassment received settlements. One person settled in 2011 and another one just one month ago. Fox News footed the bill for some of the settlements but O’Reilly also personally paid a settlement to former Fox Business Network anchor Rebecca Gomez Diamond.

The settlements came to light as The New York Times examined, and wrote an article concerning five harassment settlements involving O’Reilly over the years at Fox News. According to the New York Times, payments totaling $13 million have been made to women who have accused O’Reilly of harassing them, going back to 2002. Four of the women alleged sexual harassment and one accused O’Reilly of verbal abuse.

Some of these revelations are no secret. Anyone acquainted with New York tabloids and gossip in the early 2000’s remembers the widely publicized sexual harassment suit that former producer Andrea Mackris brought against O’Reilly in 2004. The embarrassing details included obscene voicemails, unwanted sex talk about shower fantasies and more.  Although O’Reilly countersued Mackris, accusing her of extortion he eventually paid the settlement personally which totaled 9 million dollars.

At the time, the suit seemed to be a blip on the radar. However, sexual harassment allegations have been a reoccurring and embarrassing public problem for Fox News since ousted anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit last July. That lawsuit revealed a pattern of harassment by, then Fox News producer, Roger Ailes. Similar to the O’Reilly situation, several women claimed harassment against Ailes over a period of several years. Fox News doled out over $20 million in order to settle these claims and eventually fired Ailes when the situation became untenable.

Up until this point, Fox has stood behind O’Reilly over the years, even granting him several contract extensions and raises. However, this may change since several top advertisers have pulled their commercials from his show due to the allegations. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Consumer Care, insurer Allstate, asset management firm T. Rowe Price, personal finance company Credit Karma, Untuckit, a men’s clothing line, and Constant Contact, an email marketer, and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, the parent company of the Rachel Ray-endorsed dog food brand Nutrish, all announced they were pulling ads.

In addition to sexual harassment issues, Gotham City Esquire also reported that the Fox News is weathering legal challenges from former employees on multiple fronts. On Tuesday, a third black female employee joined a racial discrimination suit filed by her colleagues in the payroll department, Tichaona Brown, and Tabrese Wright. The workers’ claims include allegations that a white supervisor forced them to pronounce certain words “correctly in front of white employees” and asked Wright if all three of her children “were fathered by the same man.”

Most large companies create a set of policies and standards which outline the process for handling harassment complaints, and those policies typically outline disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.  It would be interesting to note if any lower level leaders have been punished for actions similar to O’Reilly’s or if the settled as well.  If you own a business, it is best to outline policies and procedures with the help of a strong human resource professional and/or legal counsel.  Next, creating a new hire/new leader orientation for everyone and covering the manager code of conduct standards is always a wise idea.

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