Yesterday, the landscape of employee law got a bit of a shakeup with Fox’s announcement of a settlement with its former anchor Gretchen Carlson. While the $20 million settlement wasn’t a record, it was substantial enough. But that’s not what makes the settlement noteworthy.
What makes it remarkable was company’s statement. Fox made a public announcement of the settlement, which included an apology and words from Carlson herself. In its statement, the company apologized for the behavior, saying, “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.” For my money this is a clear acknowledgment that Carlson’s charge had merit and that they acknowledge she was treated inappropriately.
In most cases, companies that arrive at these kinds of settlement don’t issue any sort of a statement. And, if they do, it’s usually a non-statement about respecting the privacy of those involved.
They avoid making these kinds of statement fearing they could open the door to risk. And, although the statement isn’t about legal liability, it’s productive in that it includes an admission that Carlson was not treated with dignity.
The move by Fox is a good one. The apology is appropriate and timely since Carlson’s not the only female employee who’s accused them of fostering an environment where sexual harassment was tacitly permitted.
The statement acknowledges Carlson was treated badly and may be signaling that Fox intends to make a change in their culture. An apology like this is something many of my clients who’ve experiences employment harassment want. Often, though, they don’t get it. This case may just signal a change in that arena.