WASHINGTON (CN) - The EEOC claims Fox News retaliated against a reporter who complained that Fox discriminated against female, black and older correspondents. In response, Fox inserted language into her contract stating that the woman "will never serve as an anchor" or co-anchor, the EEOC says in its federal complaint.
The EEOC sued on behalf of Catherine Herridge, 45.
"Specifically, in November 2006 Herridge complained to defendant's bureau chief that female and black correspondents were given less desirable shifts," according to the complaint. "In or around January 2007, Herridge complained to defendant's CEO that defendant's agreement with her that she receive a 'trial run' as an anchor was not being honored because of her sex, female and age, then 42."
Fox investigated itself and cleared itself of discrimination, the EEOC says.
On Feb. 7, 2008 Herridge sent an email to the network's vice president, questioning "whether the investigation was thorough or impartial. The next day, defendant's CEO sent out a company-wide email criticizing employees who complain and which appeared to be in response to Herridge's complaints of age and sex discrimination. After the investigation was completed on March 17, 2008, and Herridge was notified by defendant's vice president that no evidence of discrimination had been found, Herridge disputed the findings and expressed her concern to defendant's vice president that the outcome of the investigation was predetermined."
In retaliation, the EEOC says, when Herridge's contract was renewed, "The contract was very similar to Herridge's previous contracts except that it contained a direct reference to Herridge's internal complaints of discrimination. Specifically, the contract contained language that Herridge will never serve as an anchor/co-anchor or an occasional anchor/co-anchor during the contract term unless defendant at its sole discretion decides otherwise. Further, the proposed contract stated that both Herridge and defendant acknowledged that Herridge 'has raised allegations of discrimination in the past concerning her non-assignment to anchor positions and concerning other matters, and that Fox has investigated' Herridge's allegations and that Herridge and 'Fox also acknowledge that Fox has determined that discrimination did not occur and that [Herridge] did not agree with Fox's determination.'
"This retaliatory language constituted an adverse action against Herridge because it was placed in Herridge's employment contract because of her previous complaints of discrimination, was intended by defendant to dissuade Herridge from making further complaints of employment discrimination and would have dissuaded a reasonable person from making further complaints of employment discrimination. Herridge viewed the language as retaliatory and as an attempt to intimidate her from filing any further complaints of discrimination. Herridge shared this view with defendant, however defendant insisted that the contract include the retaliatory language regarding Herridge's claims of discrimination. Herridge refused to enter into an employment contract that included the retaliatory language. Contract negotiations stalled around November 2008 when defendant stopped responding to inquiries made by or on behalf of Herridge concerning the status of the negotiations."
Herridge complained to the EEOC in the fall of 2008 and after the Commission investigated, in April 2009, Fox removed the disputed language from her contract.
But "Herridge worked without the benefit of all employment contract for approximately nine months, during which time she was constantly in fear of being discharged, losing her livelihood and losing her medical insurance benefits, among other things," the Commission says.
"The effect of the practices complained of above has been to deprive Herridge of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect her employment status."
The EEOC wants Fox enjoined from discriminating against employees who complain of fair-employment violations, and to institute policies to protect such employees, and to make Herridge whole, and "to pay Herridge punitive damages for its malicious and reckless conduct described above, in amounts to be determined at trial."
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.