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The Discrimination Lawsuit Against Fox News, Explained
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The Discrimination Lawsuit Against Fox News, Explained

A former booker for Tucker Carlson makes serious allegations against the network.

A Fox News reporter's microphone. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Despite its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems and the firing of primetime host Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ legal woes aren’t over yet.* Carlson’s former head of booking, Abby Grossberg, alleges in a federal lawsuit that she endured a hostile and discriminatory office culture at the network. 

Grossberg found herself in a “work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes, typecasts religious minorities and belittles their traditions, and demonstrates little to no regard for those suffering from mental illness,” according to the lawsuit. Fox has denied Grossberg’s accusations and has not yet filed a response in court, and Carlson has not commented on the lawsuit.

The network fired Grossberg shortly after she filed her lawsuit. The explanation given to Grossberg, according to her lawyers, was that she “improperly disclosed information regarding the Dominion/Fox Lawsuit that the Company purportedly believed was privileged.” 

What does the lawsuit allege?

A former CNN associate producer, Grossberg originally moved to Fox to produce Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday Morning Futures show. In September 2022, she accepted a job on Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Grossberg said the move was like moving from the “proverbial frying pan into the fire.”

In her lawsuit, filed in federal district court in New York, Grossberg claims to have witnessed several instances of misogynistic behavior and comments. She asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, back pay and “future loss of wages,” and attorney fees. The lawsuit claims Fox News and the other defendants violated state and federal discrimination laws, including the Family Medical Leave Act.

“She was subjected to one of the most vile, toxic work environments I’ve seen in my 30 years of practice,” her attorney, Gerry Filippatos, said in an MSNBC interview.

During her first full day on Carlson’s show, Grossberg was greeted with “large and blown-up photographs of Nancy Pelosi in a plunging bathing suit revealing her cleavage” on her computer and elsewhere in the office. The next day, Grossberg says she was called to the office of Senior Executive Producer Justin Wells, who she said asked if her former boss, Bartiromo, was having sex with then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (The same day it ended its relationship with Carlson, Fox also parted ways with Wells, one of several defendants in Grossberg’s lawsuit.)

Grossberg claims that in the fall of 2022, producers “moderated” two newsroom discussions about which of the two candidates for Michigan governor—Republican Tudor Dixon or incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer—staffers would rather have sex with. This occurred right before Dixon was scheduled to appear on the show.

“It became apparent how pervasive the misogyny and drive to embarrass and objectify women was among the male staff,” the lawsuit says. “No woman, whether she was a Republican politician or a female staffer at Fox News, was safe from suddenly becoming the target of sexist, demeaning comments, such as being called a “c—t.”

Grossberg also claims another producer and defendant, Alexander McCaskill, bullied her and another employee because of their Jewish faith. Grossberg said the stress of the environment caused stomach ulcers, anxiety, and depression, for her and other female staffers.

“Mere hours after Ms. Grossberg had the courage to speak up to a superior” about the alleged discrimination, a human resources staffer called her into a meeting and presented her with a “bogus written warning” about her job performance. “This is Tucker’s tone and just the pace of the show,” she says the HR staffer told her.

After more meetings, she was “disregarded and ordered to return to work and face the same environment about which she had just complained,” her lawsuit continues. She was later placed on administrative leave.

Grossberg’s Delaware lawsuit.

In March Grossberg filed another lawsuit against Fox News, this one in Delaware state court for defamation of character. Among claims about her Dominion deposition, it also alleges that Carlson wanted Grossberg to book guests to push the conspiracy theories that the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack was an FBI operation. The lawsuit further says that at one point Carlson planned to fly to Mar-a-Lago to “stop Trump from announcing his presidential candidacy for the 2024 election.” And in early 2023 the host allegedly wanted Rep. Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy to appear on his show “so that Mr. Carlson himself could be the one to set the terms of the negotiation for House Speaker live on television and ‘save the Republican party.’” 

Both the Delaware suit and the federal complaint claim Fox News’ lawyers pressured Grossberg into giving misleading testimony during a September 2022 deposition for Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox.

After she gave the deposition, Carlson’s producers emailed the staff with a celebratory email recognizing “Abby Day,” she claims. (Fox disputes the allegations.)

But later, Grossberg filed an “errata sheet,” which is used to formally notify and correct the court of inaccuracies in past testimony. According to the filing, Grossberg described her preparation sessions with Fox’s lawyers as coercive.

Grossberg originally said during the deposition that she trusted the producers she worked with. But the errata sheet says she did not trust the producers because “they’re activists, not journalists.”

She said Fox News attorneys pressured her into downplaying the focus on ratings at the network, though she personally knew that her former boss, Bartiromo, was “obsessed” with those metrics. She said that her workload—she described herself as overworked—prevented her from more thoroughly vetting guests and making sure information on Bartiomo’s show was factual. Bartiromo was mentioned in Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox: Donald Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell frequently made baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election being fraudulent on her show.

Grossberg’s federal lawsuit claims Fox News attorneys denied her the opportunity to review and correct her transcript testimony, even though male staffers were given that opportunity.

Did Grossberg’s lawsuit play a role in Tucker Carlson’s ouster?

That remains unclear, though some reporting suggests the suit was relevant.

NPR’s David Folkenflik said, based on reporting from “three people with knowledge” of the circumstances of Carlson’s separation from Fox, that “digital exchanges captured by the Dominion legal team echo the suite of concerns alleged by his ex producer – that his show’s workplace was defined by sexism and bigotry.”

Semafor’s Ben Smith said that those inside Fox believed the firing was “connected” to the Grossberg suit and complaints of “sex discrimination,” while the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright reported that the decision to oust Carlson was largely was because of “vulgar comments he made about Sidney Powell.”

Fox News said in a brief statement that the network and Carlson “have agreed to part ways,” with no further explanation. While the network cast the decision as a mutual one, initial reporting has indicated that Carlson was “blindsided.”

“Tucker Carlson’s departure from Fox News is, in part, an admission of the systemic lying, bullying, and conspiracy-mongering claimed by our client,” Grossberg lawyer Tanvir Rahman, said in a Monday statement. Rahman noted that Carlson and other Fox employees “remain individual defendants” in Grossberg’s lawsuit and her legal team anticipated “taking their depositions under oath in the very near term.”

In a statement, Grossberg called Carlson’s departure from Fox News “a step towards accountability for the election lies and baseless conspiracy theories spread by Fox News, something I witnessed firsthand.”

*Correction, April 27, 2023: Due to an editing error, this story originally misreported the settlement amount between Fox News Channel and Dominion Voting Systems. The parties settled for $787.5 million.

Harvest Prude is a former reporter at The Dispatch.