It's great public relations for men accused of sexual harassment when female coworkers attest to their virtues. But should we care?
Ailes, the chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) Fox News, is in negotiations to leave Fox, according to published reports about fallout from the suit. He's denied the allegations. As he proceeds in his legal fight with Carlson, we'll be hearing more about what a great guy he is -- especially from women who work for him.
And to that, I say "So what?"
For starters, lots of us -- male and female -- say nice things about our bosses that we don't mean. We do it because we like to get a paycheck and we see it as a way to keep our careers on track. When it comes to someone like Ailes, even non-employees have motivation to curry favor. Kissing up to him can lead to bookings on shows with high ratings. You're nuts if you believe that accolades about powerful people are all heartfelt.
Fox News star Megyn Kelly is an example. In an interview last Fall with Charlie Rose, she said Ailes had been "nothing but good to me." And, seriously, what else would you expect her to say?
As it turns out, though, New York magazine says she recently revealed to investigators at the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison that Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances toward her a decade ago.
Shocking? Not to me. Women who get harassed -- if indeed she was -- don't have a lot of options. I suppose Kelly could have reported it to Human Resources 10 years ago, but most women are smart enough to know that can be a career-killer.
Should she have quit? Yeah, right. And what's her explanation when the next employer asks why she left her job? Spilling your guts about harassment to a prospective employer is a great way to ensure you won't be asked back for a second interview.
The day after Carlson filed her suit, the Ailes endorsements began rolling in. Jeanine Pirro, host of Fox's "Justice w/ Judge Jeanine," told the Hollywood news website TheWrap that she "felt very strongly" that Ailes wasn't capable of what Carlson said about him. She called the suit "absurd," adding that Ailes was a busy guy who had better things to do than harass Carlson: "You really think that he's chasing her around?" she asked.
That, from a former prosecutor who was trained to know you can't assume anything is "absurd" until the facts are in. Pirro hasn't examined all the facts (and neither has anyone else).
Fox's Maria Bartiromo said she'd known Ailes to be "nothing but a professional." Kimberly Guilfoyle, another Fox anchor, said he is "a champion of women." Ainsley Earhardt, co-host of Fox and Friends, called him a "father figure."
I'm starting to think this guy has a shot at becoming the first male president of the National Organization for Women.
Fox host Greta Van Susteren weighed in the day after Pirro's rant. She told The Daily Beast that she doesn't like it when people are "falsely accused," noting that the lawsuit did not describe the Ailes she knows. She expressed skepticism about unnamed women who were telling reporters stories of harassment by Ailes. "Don't you find it odd that nobody will go on the record?" she asked her interviewer.
Well, actually, it's possible it would have been "odd" if they had, because at least some women signed non-disclosure agreements after receiving settlements, according to a published report. On July 19, New York magazine said that 21st Century Fox had decided to waive the agreements that forced them to stay quiet so that the women can speak to investigators. The timing is convenient given the news reports that Ailes is already out at Fox and his departure is being negotiated.
Collecting testimonials from women in the face of a discrimination suit is an old game. After a group of women sued Goldman Sachs (GS) for gender discrimination in 2010, the company rounded up affidavits from 16 women who testified to Goldman's dearth of discrimination and harassment and estimable support of working mothers.
"We call them 'happy camper' declarations," said Linda D. Friedman, a Chicago lawyer who has represented women in numerous discrimination lawsuits. "They will say great things about the employer until it happens to them."
In one case that Friedman handled, her firm deposed some of the women who had endorsed the defendant firm and asked if they had been aware that men at their level were making far more than they were. "Some of the women became teary-eyed and asked to be excused" when they learned the salaries of their male peers, she said. So much for happy camping.
Companies try hard to get affidavits by current employees entered into evidence in court cases, but some judges view them with a wary eye. In a class action lawsuit against Morgan Stanley brought by workers who said they were denied overtime pay, a Federal judge in Manhattan was blunt in a 2013 ruling: Statements that an employer gathers from current employees are of limited value "because of the potential for coercion," the judge wrote.
It's an act of courage at best -- self-destruction at worst -- to speak up about sexual harassment at the office. We don't have all the facts in the case against Ailes. But I can tell you one thing: Women who bring these cases are signing up for an ordeal. It's hard to fathom why someone with a weak case would bother.
TheStreet's columnist Susan Antilla is author of "Tales From the Boom-Boom Room: The Landmark Legal Battles That Exposed Wall Street's Shocking Culture of Sexual Harassment."