Former Fox News Channel host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News chief Roger Ailes earlier Wednesday in New Jersey Superior Court, saying he terminated her employment because she refused his sexual advances.
Late Wednesday, 21st Century Fox Corp. said it would launch an internal investigation into the allegations.
After declining repeated requests for comment, Ailes also released a brief statement late Wednesday, saying “Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract.”
Ailes, who launched FNC in 1996, has long been one of the most powerful executives in television news.
In her complaint, she also said Steve Doocy, her co-anchor on “Fox & Friends,” which she left three years ago, had also engaged in sexual harassment. Neither Doocy nor Fox News were named co-defendants in the suit.
In its statement, 21st Century Fox said, “ We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”
Carlson charged that Ailes fired her on June 23, after “ostracizing, marginalizing and shunning her after making clear to her that these ‘problems’ would not have existed, and could be solved, if she had a sexual relationship with him.”
Carlson, 50, had been one of Fox News’ most visible on-air anchors, by virtue of her long association with “Fox & Friends,” which began in 2005 after she joined the network from CBS News. In 2013, she left the program for an afternoon program on Fox, “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.”
Carlson also charged in her complaint that Doocy “engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment” of Carlson, including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blond female prop.”
In the complaint, she said that she “refused to engage in a sexual relationship or participate in sexual banter with Ailes, so Ailes retaliated by “consistently” denying her various opportunities that were afforded to other Fox News hosts.”
Carlson said that during a meeting in the fall to discuss her concerns about what she considered ill treatment, Ailes told her: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better, and I’d be good and better.”
Carlson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, a partner with Montclair, New Jersey-based Smith Mullin, told The Associated Press that she’d heard from other women at Fox who experienced similar behavior, but she would not identify them. Smith said she had “very strong evidence” against Ailes that she looked forward to presenting in court.
“I’m sure he feels untouchable,” she said. “I’m sure he feels that he’s gotten away with it all these years and he will continue to. What he’s going to find is that, in America at least, and maybe around the world, the tide is turning on this kind of treatment of women.”
On her Twitter feed, Carlson, who was Miss America 1989, earlier posted, “As you may have heard, I’m no longer with Fox News. I value your support and friendship so please stay in touch.” She added a link to her Facebook page.
“I have strived to empower women and girls throughout my entire career,” Carlson, a former Miss America, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Although this was a difficult step to take, I had to stand up for myself and speak out for all women and the next generation of women in the workplace. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments at Fox News and for keeping our loyal viewers engaged and informed on events and news topics of the day.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit was not the first indication of conflict between the former anchor and Ailes, 73. In a 2014 biography of the Fox News chief by New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman, Ailes quipped that “it must not have been a good year” when Carlson had been named Miss America