BRONX, N.Y. (CN) — Still reeling from sexual harassment scandals involving former CEO Roger Ailes, Fox News faces a new lawsuit from two black women who say the network also suffers from “top-down racial harassment.”
Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, former payroll managers at Fox’s Manhattan headquarters, worked on what they call the “infamous” second floor, alongside celebrity anchors and senior executives, including Roger Ailes, who is not named as a defendant in the March 28 federal complaint. The only individual defendant is Judith Slater, a former senior vice president and controller, who worked for Fox for 18 years.
The second floor of Fox’s building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas earned a blot on its reputation after more than 20 other female employees — including Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly — accused the new organization of a culture of sexism that went all the way to the top, to former CEO Ailes.
“Now, the top-down racial harassment at Fox is exposed,” their attorney Douglas Wigdor said in the 30-page complaint in Bronx County Supreme Court.
Brown and Wright say Fox executives “intentionally turned a blind eye” as Slater indulged in bigoted rants against black workers.
Putting on a stereotyped accent, Slater mocked black employees by pronouncing words such as “mother,” “father,” “month” and “ask” as “muva,” “fava,” “monf,” and “axe,” according to the complaint.
During Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence scandal, Slater allegedly brought up the cases of other black celebrities such as O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Chris Brown before asking: “Why are all black men women-beaters?”
Slater worked for Fox for nearly two decades before the network fired her on Feb. 28.
About a month later, Fox explained Slater’s termination to Variety by stating: “There is no place for abhorrent behavior like this at Fox News.”
The lawsuit casts Fox’s statement as a belated attempt to get ahead of a story that the network knew about for years.
“To be clear, Ms. Slater was not terminated because she engaged in discriminatory conduct – Fox was willing to let her get away with that for years,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, Slater was terminated because Fox knew this would become a public matter and wanted to salvage its reputation.”
A Fox News spokeswoman disputed this, in an email statement.
“We take complaints of this nature very seriously and took prompt and effective remedial action before Ms. Brown and Ms. Wright sued in court and even before Ms. Wright complained through her lawyer,” the spokeswoman said. “There is no place for inappropriate verbal remarks like this at Fox News. We are disappointed that this needless litigation has been filed.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement grew in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Brown says, Slater said goodbye to her every night “by raising her hands up in the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ movement.”
Brown and Wright say that black people were not the only minorities targeted by Slater’s rants.
Slater called her daily commute the “Bombay Express” because of the Indian people living in New Jersey, commented that Chinese men had “small penises,” and described day laborers as “cheap Mexicans,” according to the complaint.
Brown says that she was fired in retaliation for suing, though Fox News said in a email that she has not been fired.
Wright said Fox has acknowledged that it demoted her for suing, by stating: “This lateral transfer is occurring so that she no longer has access to Fox News confidential information that she could use in her lawsuit.”
Fox said that Wright has the same salary, title and benefits in her new position.
The women seek unspecified punitive damages against Twenty-First Century Fox, Fox News and Slater for four counts of discrimination and retaliation.
On Monday, the day before the lawsuit was filed, CNN reported that federal prosecutors offered Fox’s former chief financial officer Mark Kranz immunity in their investigation of sexual harassment accusations against Ailes. CNN attributed that information to the Financial Times.
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