Updated from 11:03 a.m. with additional information.
Just days after a New York Times investigative report uncovered new sexual harassment claims against Fox News' biggest star, Bill O'Reilly, the right-leaning network at the heart of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox (FOXA) was hit by two new harassment lawsuits.
The latest allegations against Fox News prompted a rash of advertisers to withdraw their support for O'Reilly's show, yet according to the network, continue to run their ads on other programs. The auto manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai (HYMLF) , Toyota's (TYO) Lexus, and BMW said they would no longer advertise on O'Reilly's weekday prime-time show The O'Reilly Factor, as did the marketing firm Constant Contact (CTCT) .
In addition, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said in a statement that it had "temporarily put a hold on spots running on The O'Reilly Factor while we assess this situation."
In response, Fox News issued the following statement on behalf of Paul Rittenberg, its executive vice president of advertising sales: "We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O'Reilly Factor. At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs."
On Tuesday, Monica Douglas, a Fox News manager who is an African-American, joined a racial discrimination lawsuit that was filed last week by two other African-American women employees at the network who said they "suffered years-long relentless racial animus at the hands of their white supervisor."
The lawsuit details numerous instances of ridicule and racist insults.
Fox News fired Slater on Feb. 28 after 18 years at the network. In a statement last week, Fox insisted that the original lawsuit filed by Tichaona Brown, a payroll manager, and Tabrese Wright, payroll coordinator, was unwarranted, given that the company took action to fire the supervisor in question, a woman named Judy Slater.
"There is no place for inappropriate verbal remarks like this at Fox News," the network said in its statement last week. "We are disappointed that this needless litigation has been filed."
And in a civil suit filed on Monday in New York, Julie Roginksy, a frequent guest on the program The Five, charged that she was passed over for a promotion after refusing to have a sexual relationship with former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. Roginsky's suit was aimed at Ailes, network co-president Bill Shine and Fox News itself. One of the most powerful men in media and politics for more than 20 years, Ailes was ousted from Fox News in July following former anchor Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit alleging years of sexual harassment.
Roginsky is being represented by Nancy Erica Smith, the same attorney who handled Carlson's lawsuit against the network. Fox News couldn't immediately be reached for a comment on either case.
Fox put out a separate statement on those news cases: "
"We take complaints of this nature very seriously and took prompt and effective remedial action in terminating Judy Slater before Ms. Brown, Ms. Wright and Ms. Douglas sued in court and even before Ms. Wright and Ms. Douglas complained through their lawyer," Fox News said. "There is no place for conduct like this at Fox News, which is why Ms. Slater was fired."
The new wave of lawsuits come amid an historic generational shift within 21st Century Fox and in particular, Fox News. As the lawsuits and allegations attest, the company was dominated for years by Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. But the elder Murdoch, 86, has ceded the day-to-day operations of the company to his son James, the CEO, and his brother Lachlan, who shares the title of executive chairman.
The younger Murdochs will be under the most pressure in the coming weeks to address these newest indictments involving Fox News' workplace.
"In the old days when Rupert had total control, we wouldn't even have found out about [the O'Reilly settlements] as [they] probably would have been sloughed off, just as the [initial] allegations against Ailes were sloughed off," Mark Feldstein, a professor in broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland and a former correspondent at ABC News, a unit of Disney (DIS) , said in a phone interview. "Now, there's a new generation on the verge of taking control that has less a sense of an outlaw pirate mentality.
The Times' report on O'Reilly, published Sunday, told how five women who worked at the network received payouts either from O'Reilly, host of the weeknight The O'Reilly Factor, or Fox News in exchange for agreeing not to pursue sexual harassment litigation. The Times' expose comes seven months after Ailes, who co-founded the network with the elder Murdoch, settled the Carlson lawsuit out of court, paying her $20 million. Ailes received $40 million as part of his dismissal.
It also follows by six years the phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. that led the Murdochs to close two of their London-based newspapers, and remove James as head of the company's U.K. newspaper group.
The Times report details three previously unreported settlements, two of them recent, in which O'Reilly or Fox News made payments to women who charged they had been victims of sexual harassment. Combined with two other previously public cases, the total payout on O'Reilly's behalf was $13 million, the newspaper reported. O'Reilly and Fox News settled two of those cases after Ailes officially left the company in July, just hours before Donald Trump gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The women cited numerous instances of "verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O'Reilly was masturbating," the Times reported, citing court documents and interviews.
The Fox News anchor issued a statement on Saturday in which he didn't deny the veracity of the Times account. O'Reilly did note, however, that no complaint has ever been filed against him with Fox's human relations department in his more than 20 years at the network, and that he has "put to rest any controversies" to spare his children any embarrassment.
When Carlson filed her lawsuit, O'Reilly was among many Fox News anchors who came to Ailes' defense, charging at the time that "famous, powerful or wealthy" people are vulnerable to being sued in what can amount to blackmail.
James Murdoch was promoted slightly more than 18 months to CEO, replacing his 86-year-old father. Ailes' departure was in no small part a result of the younger Murdochs' insistence that the network make clear to its employees, and the public, that it took the allegations seriously. James and Lachlan said in a statement in July that they wouldn't tolerate a workplace that "disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment."
That Fox agreed to settle claims of sexual harassment against O'Reilly marks a shift in the company's attitude toward employee allegations against high-ranking executives and on-air talent, said Anne Vladeck, a labor and employee law attorney who represented former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders in her successful sexual harassment lawsuit against Isiah Thomas, the team's former coach.
Such tactics are known in the trade as the "pre-emptive strike," a strategy that Ronald Green, a lawyer who represented O'Reilly in past cases, boasts of using on his website. "Mr. Green is one of the pioneers of the use of preemptive litigation in suing current and former employees, and others, who threaten to bring legal proceedings of an extortionate nature against the firm's clients," the web site reads.
Green represented O'Reilly in 2004 when a former producer of his show, Andrea Mackris, filed a lawsuit in which he told her "to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her," according to the complaint cited by the Times. Mackris received a $9 million settlement.
In September, 21st Century Fox secured a settlement with Juliet Huddy, a former Fox News anchor, worth $1.6 million, the Times said. Prior to the settlement, the Times reported that O'Reilly's lawyer Frederic S. Newman sent a letter to Huddy's attorney warning that she would "face significant credibility concerns" if she tried to pursue litigation against O'Reilly.
"In the past, Fox took a very aggressive position thinking they were going to scare people from asserting legitimate claims," Vladeck said in a phone interview in New York. "But it's become obvious that sometimes the very aggressive defensive stance is the wrong way to go. The pendulum went way too far the other way for Fox."
Going forward, the Murdochs will have to be careful not to alienate viewers who have made O'Reilly the biggest draw in cable-TV news. Fox's audience could view any internal action against O'Reilly as succumbing to the kind of "political correctness" he often rants about. The network in 2016 generated more than $1 billion in profits for the company, highlighting O'Reilly's importance within a sprawling media conglomerate with operations around the world.
"They will need to find some way to make the problems go away and keep O'Reilly there because he's such a cash cow," Feldstein added. "Ailes invented the formula, and as long they follow that formula, they'll keep making money, though they don't have to be so horrifically misogynistic in their workplace to produce a product that brings in enormous revenue."