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Fox pays $12 million to resolve suit alleging bias at Tucker Carlson's show

Former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg, seen here in an interview on MSNBC, alleged there was a hostile environment riven by sexism and antisemitism when she worked on Tucker Carlson's show.
MSNBC
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Screenshot by NPR
Former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg, seen here in an interview on MSNBC, alleged there was a hostile environment riven by sexism and antisemitism when she worked on Tucker Carlson's show.

Updated June 30, 2023 at 2:40 PM ET

Fox News paid $12 million on Friday to settle a former producer's lawsuit claiming that Tucker Carlson's show was an abusive place to work, defined by bigotry, misogyny and bullying.

Abby Grossberg's suit helped trigger Carlson's ouster this spring. It also influenced the resolution of a blockbuster defamation suit brought against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems over 2020 election-fraud falsehoods.

"I am hopeful, based on our discussions with Fox News today, that this resolution represents a positive step by the Network regarding its treatment of women and minorities in the workplace," she said in a statement released by her attorney, Tanvir Rahman.

Grossberg, formerly the chief booker of guests for Carlson's now-canceled show, alleged a hostile environment riven by sexism and antisemitism. In one instance, she described images plastered around the office showing then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a bathing suit with a plunging neckline. In another, she accused a supervisor of challenging staffers on two separate occasions to state which of two female candidates for the Michigan governor's race they would prefer to have sex with.

She alleged that her boss at the show, Justin Wells, conceded she was paid less than male counterparts. And, according to her lawsuit, the gibes over her Jewish faith were relentless.

At the crux of her suit was the assertion that the culture echoed Carlson's own sensibility - and the often harshly sexist and racist remarks he made on his program. In an interview in late April, Grossberg told NPR that her complaints were dismissed by a supervisor. "His response to me was, 'We're just following Tucker's tone'," she said on Morning Edition. "And I do really believe that it all trickles down from the top."

In an interview with MSNBC, she said Carlson "made my life a living hell."

Carlson told NPR after her suit was filed, "I know nothing about her. I never met her." Grossberg joined the show from Fox's Maria Bartiromo's team in September 2022; Carlson broadcasted remotely since the outset of the pandemic. Grossberg disputes his claim, saying she frequently participated in team calls.

Grossberg also alleges male executives at the network constantly belittled and demeaned female show hosts, including Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro.

"We are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter without further litigation," Fox News said in a statement released by a spokesperson. The settlement also ends the legal peril for Carlson, Wells and other Fox executives named in Grossberg's lawsuit.

Grossberg was key to Fox's payment of $787 million to settle defamation claim

In a separate suit, since dismissed, Grossberg had alleged Fox's legal team had pressured her to lie in her sworn deposition in the Dominion suit. Dominion's attorneys questioned her under oath as they pursued a defamation case over Fox's repeated broadcast of baseless claims that the voting-tech company had helped rig the 2020 race against then-President Donald Trump.

In her suit, Grossberg said she felt pressured to lie to defend Carlson when Dominion's attorneys asked whether she was surprised that he had referred to one of Trump's female allies by a particularly vile and derogatory sexist term.

Her lawsuit stated, "Ms. Grossberg knew full well that Mr. Carlson was very capable of using such disgusting language about women." And it added that "colleagues at Fox News spew misogynistic phrases at her (or within her earshot) on a constant basis."

Fox outright denied her allegations of intimidation, though the judge in the case had repeatedly rebuked its attorneys for their tactics.

After being fired, Grossberg said she held dozens of tapes of Fox journalists speaking privately. On the eve of the defamation trial, she offered to become a lead witness for Dominion.

The network subsequently softened its criticism of her and settled the Dominion case just before opening arguments by paying $787.5 million. As in Grossberg's case, the public disclosure of the financial size of the settlement serves as a kind of acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Fox did not apologize for the baseless claims spread on its air, though in passive terms it acknowledged that the court had deemed some statements inaccurate.

A week later, it canceled Carlson's program and has sparred with him over his subsequent plans to post political commentaries on Twitter and other platforms. Fox is seeking to pay him until the end of his employment contract, which extends beyond the 2024 election, to keep him on the sidelines.

A sizeable payout for a legal claim of this nature

The amount of money Fox has paid to Grossberg is notable.

"Holy cow," Tom Wienner, a retired corporate litigator who has followed the Fox cases at NPR's request, said in learning of the size of the Grossberg settlement. "Fox is continuing to pay unusually large settlement amounts to try to get past the whole sad spectacle of its coverage of the aftermath of the 2020 election.

"Abby Grossberg not only made damning claims of sexism and antisemitism in Fox's workplace, but also accused Fox's lawyers of pressuring her to give evasive and false testimony in her Dominion deposition," Wienner added. "Yet the story is far from over."

Indeed, daunting legal challenges still remain for Fox. Smartmatic, another voting-tech company, has its own $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox over claims of election fraud closely linked to those that prompted Dominion's case. The leadership of Fox Corp, Fox News' parent company, faces suits involving disaffected shareholders as well.

Grossberg's suit raised questions about how greatly Fox's workplace had evolved since previous legal threats. Lawsuits brought over sexual harassment and misconduct at Fox led to the firings of the late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and star hosts Bill O'Reilly and Ed Henry, among others.

Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson was paid $20 million to drop her own suit against Ailes in 2016; She had taped the Fox chief's sexual advances, which he denied until his death the next year. Fox paid Ailes $40 million in severance. The ultimate tally of its costs associated with the larger sexual harassment scandals neared $200 million.

Since that time, Fox News chief Suzanne Scott has emphasized publicly that she has instituted sweeping changes in the network's workplace culture. The network and Fox Corp. have amplified those statements of major reforms.

Grossberg's claims challenge how deeply they took root.

Fox seeks to clear the decks

Grossberg said she would "continue to speak out on issues and causes that [she believes] in, including journalism, equality, dignity, and respect in the workplace."

Rahman praised Grossberg in his own remarks: "Abby is a trailblazer. It is my hope that today's settlement announcement will inspire other women like her to come forward and tell the world their story."

With the Grossberg settlement, announced on the eve of a holiday weekend, Fox appears eager to clear the decks as much as possible.

It has named a successor to Carlson's former weeknight slot: Jesse Watters, who got his start as a producer and disciple of the man Carlson replaced in primetime, Bill O'Reilly. (Fox also moved the satiric conservative host Greg Gutfeld to 10 p.m., displacing Laura Ingraham and shifting her to the early evening slot previously held by Watters.)

Like Carlson, Watters has been repeatedly accused of indulging in sexist and racist gibes. The network is hoping to shore up its primetime ratings, which plunged after Carlson went off the air.

Wells, Carlson's former executive producer, has stayed with him and is now working on his videos posted to Twitter. The network has swept out the remaining members of Carlson's primetime crew.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.