The New York times unleashed a bombshell six days ago, on April 1, 2017, revealing that five women were paid approximately $13 million in exchange for keeping silent about the sexual harassment charges against Bill O’Reilly. All of the women accusing Mr. O’Reilly of sexual harassment either worked for him or appeared on his Fox network show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” The allegations included verbal abuse, unwanted advances and lewd comments. This was not the first time that Fox News had to pay a large settlement for sexual harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly. In 2004, Fox News shelled out $9 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a Fox News producer, Andrea Mackris.
Meanwhile, Fox News has not responded to any of these allegations and there has been no indication that they intend to remove Mr. O’Reilly from its network.
Last week, stories about Uber were splashed all over the internet because of the sexual harassment allegations that were continually dismissed by its Human Resources Department. And now, here we are again, with an even larger and more public scandal. Whether the company is a small business with 2 employees, a company like Uber with thousands of employees, or a company like Fox Network, indisputably one of the world’s biggest media empires, sexual harassment happens and regardless of the amount of resources available to the company, employers are still getting it wrong.
It seems implausible that a company like Fox would choose to ignore sexual harassment complaints of this magnitude. Of course, it is known that Mr. O’Reilly is a powerful celebrity who brings in a tremendous amount of money in advertisement revenue. Apparently, this revenue and power also carries with it a license to commit crimes against women with significantly less power. Only now that the New York Times has disclosed the truth and companies are feeling the societal pressure to pull its advertising away from Mr. O’Reilly’s show, will justice be done for these women who had been continuously ignored and dismissed by their employer.
The hope is that if and when Mr. O’Reilly goes down for this, it will send a powerful message to our society that employers simply cannot get away with dismissing sexual harassment complaints. The short term benefit to the company of ignoring these complaints, with the hope that they will be swept under the rug and never brought to light, will be far outweighed by the irreversible damage of a pervasive sexual harassment scandal that is brought in front of the public eye.
The bottom line is simple. All employers, no matter how large or small, whether you are Fox News or the small corner hardware store with two employees, need to take sexual harassment seriously. These extremely serious claims can no longer be ignored. If an employee in your company is being sexually harassed, then do a prompt and thorough investigation. Then, depending on the results, discipline the harasser accordingly. No woman should ever have to be in a situation that these victims of Mr. O’Reilly are finding themselves in.
Disclaimer: Workwise Law, PC has not been involved in the investigation of any of the complaints brought against Bill O’Reilly and cannot affirm or deny any of these claims.