(CN) – Fox News dodged a lawsuit over its treatment of a disgruntled reporter who claimed she was blocked from promotions because of her sex and age, a Washington federal judge ruled.
Catherine Herridge works as an on-air homeland security correspondent for Fox, with assignments taking her to Guantanamo Bay and New York City during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Herridge said the network nevertheless failed to consider her for an anchor position, choosing to promote a man because she is in her 40s.
Herridge said she worried that Fox would not honor its agreement to give her a “trial run” as anchor.
“Notwithstanding these purported concerns, Fox News allowed Herridge a trial run as a weekend anchor from approximately fall 2006 to fall 2007,” the court found. “At the end of her trial run, Herridge was reassigned to her position as a reporter. The weekend anchor position was later filled by a man.”
Herridge made several complaints to Fox’s senior vice president of legal and business affairs, Dianne Brandi, about the network’s employment practices and its treatment of her. She also questioned the D.C. bureau chief at the time why “less desirable shifts were routinely given to female and black correspondents.”
After Herridge met separately with Fox CEO Roger Ailes and Brandi about the issue, Fox said it launched a three-month internal investigation and announced in March 2008 that it could not uncover evidence of discrimination.
Herridge renewed her discrimination claims around that time, as her three-year contract was set to expire in October. During contract negotiations, she asked for salary increases that topped out at $993,739 in Year 5. Ultimately, Herridge agreed to a three-year deal, capped at $570,000, which is a quarter of a million less than the salary Herridge had proposed for Year 3.
Herridge, meanwhile, had reported Fox to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2010, the commission found that there was “insufficient evidence to establish a violation of the statutes.”
Finding that Fox had delayed contract negotiations to retaliate against Herridge for her complaints, however, it sued the network for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said retaliation was not the reason for those delays.
“An objective evaluation of Herridge’s salary negotiations supports Fox News’ assertion that ‘bewildering salary demands were the primary reason for the delay in reaching a new agreement,'” he wrote.
“Notwithstanding that Herridge is currently the highest paid reporter in the D.C. bureau,” she asked for a 35 percent increase in her salary in year one, according to the 17-page ruling.
Fox was “not prepared to offer Herridge anything close to a 35 percent raise in year one,” Leon wrote, noting that that Fox had told Herridge that none of its reporters get five-year contracts.
“Herridge’s astronomical salary requests, coupled with Fox News’ unequivocal position that such requests were unworkable, easily satisfies Fox News’ burden to produce a ‘legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions,'” Leon wrote. “Herridge’s allegations of retaliation, and her eagerness to blame Fox News for delays in salary negotiations, are belied by the persistent and unfeasible demands detailed in the record. Accordingly, a reasonable jury could not infer retaliation from the record and plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed.”