That, as they say in the legal parlance, is a crooked number with a LOT of zeros behind it.
And that is also the reported amount of settlement between Gretchen Carlson and Fox News over her sexual harassment lawsuit. Plus an unprecedented apology. And it doesn’t take into account other cases of harassment that are allegedly being settled concurrently.
Now I’m sure the settlement had all the disclaimers that Fox News was not admitting liability as part of the settlement.
But you don’t need to be a lawyer to know that you aren’t paying a $20M settlement as “nuisance” value. I have little doubt that the investigation that Fox News conducted turned up some pretty egregious evidence of something and the company figured that paying the settlement was STILL a lot cheaper than having the case go forward.
It’s a big deal in a lot of respects.
First, by my back of the napkin recollection, it has to be one of the largest single-plaintiff sex harassment settlements ever inked. (If there were ones much larger, it’s been kept pretty confidential.).
Second, it demonstrates — as if the allegations didn’t already — that despite pervasive training and years of awareness, that some workplaces are still riddled with sexual harassment. I noted as much in a prior post back in July but back then it was tough to figure out what was happening.
A $20M settlement sort of avoids any doubt as to what was happening.
Third, companies need to be vigilant and if the CEO/President is condoning the behavior (or worse, is the one engaging in harassing behavior), then it’s up to the Board of Directors to take a stand.
Fourth, it’ll likely be used as a benchmark for other cases of harassment in settlement negotiations. You can just hear it now: “Well, if Gretchen Carlson got $20M, my client’s case is worth at least half as much….”
Lastly, it should put to bed the notion that we are in an environment where sex harassment just isn’t a problem any more. Back in 2011, there was a notable column in The New York Times that suggested that was the case and I highlighted it in a discussion about this very issue.
Gretchen Carlson will now join the pantheon of people who spoke up when it would’ve been more convenient to remain quiet. And everyone — employers and employees alike — ought to appreciate the sunlight she has brought to the issue. Whether this case is a harbinger of more things to come or not, use this case as an opportunity to test your own practices.