Prominent sexual harassment campaigner Gretchen Carlson is coming to Australia for the upcoming Vivid festival.
The former Fox News presenter was responsible for the downfall of powerful Fox News creator Roger Ailes.
Two years later, the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, and the #MeToo movement began.
Prominent sexual harassment campaigner coming to Australia
Carlson started out as an actor in high school, and became an accomplished violinist, a Miss America, almost a lawyer, and then a journalist.
She presented the highly successful Fox and Friends breakfast program on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in the US.
During this time, Ailes subjected Carlson to horrendous sexual harassment.
When she rebuffed his repeated advances, he removed her from the morning program and later refused to renew her contract.
In 2016, Carlson sued Ailes with court documents stating:
“Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
Two weeks later, Rupert Murdoch sacked Ailes.
Fox later made an unprecedented public apology to Carlson in addition to paying her $25 million compensation.
More than 20 other women subsequently came forward to make sexual harassment complaints against Ailes.
The network eventually paid out more than $125 million to compensate victims of Roger Ailes appalling conduct.
During the legal process, Carlson learned about the arbitration clauses in contracts, which prevent employees from taking action in the public court system.
Initially, her own lawyers told her she “didn’t have a case” because of that clause in her contract.
“That was one of the darkest days in my life, when I found out what it actually meant to have an arbitration clause,” she said.
Carlson’s attorneys crafted a “brilliant strategy” in which she sued Ailes personally under New York City Human Rights Law. (Though Fox News’ parent company ended up paying her settlement).
As a result of her experience, Carlson testified before Congress, and advocated for the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act”, a bipartisan bill she’s helped promote over the past four years.
She also co-founded Lift Our Voices, a non-profit with the goal of banning forced arbitration clauses and non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts for toxic workplace issues.
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Carlson is continuing her advocacy, appearing in conversation with Lisa Wilkinson at Vivid later this month.
She will discuss everything that has happened since 2016, however, she can’t talk about her case against Fox because she signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of her settlement with the news network.
Carlson is campaigning to have such gag orders abolished in the future, she told the The Sydney Morning Herald.
“I thought I was going to be home crying my eyes out every day because Fox News fired me after a 30-year career,” she said.
“Instead, I started hearing from all these other women all across the world, and Australia included – a lot of people from Australia.
“And I realised all these people have been silenced. And that not only is harassment an epidemic, but so are the silencing mechanisms.
“That’s when I decided to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
Australian actors tell Carlson’s story
In 2019, two Australian actors portrayed Carlson – Naomi Watts in the television miniseries The Loudest Voice, and Nicole Kidman in the film Bombshell.
She spoke about both productions to the SMH.
“First and foremost, I was incredibly flattered that two actresses of such high calibre would want to take on these roles,” she said.
“Going back to that first day when I jumped off the cliff, how could I have ever known that I was going to help to ignite a movement and that these actresses would be playing Gretchen Carlson?
“I’m also flattered that they put their names and faces and reputations out there to talk about harassment in the workplace. That would never have happened five years ago. People were not interested in making movies about this stuff. So that was spectacular.”
The downside, however, is that her non-disclosure agreement prevented Carlson from participating in the projects, even as a consultant.
“I can’t even share with you whether or not I think their portrayals of me are accurate,” she said.
Survivors have a right to tell their own stories
That’s why she is advocating for survivors to break non-disclosure clauses.
“It’s crazy to think I am not able to say, unless it is to myself, ‘Well, that didn’t really happen that way.’ Or, ‘Well, that was really great because that’s exactly how it went down.’ I can’t comment.
“But that’s why I’m fighting for nobody else to be silenced. Everyone should be able to own their own truth and their own stories. And maybe my story has come and gone, but I don’t want other people to have to face that.”
Gretchen Carlson is in conversation with Lisa Wilkinson on May 29 at Sydney Town Hall; vividsydney.com.
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