The New York State Department of Labor is investigating Fox News over gender discrimination and retaliation complaints made by former host Melissa Francis, who exited the conservative cable network last year amid a pay dispute, The Daily Beast has learned.
“Ms. Francis filed a charge with the New York State Department of Labor because Fox News has not changed and continues to discriminate and retaliate against women, including those who seek equal pay for equal work,” Francis’ attorney, Kevin Mintzer, told The Daily Beast while confirming the probe.
“The NYS DOL does not comment (confirm nor deny) on potential or pending investigations,” a NY State Department of Labor spokesperson said.
A Fox News spokesperson would not comment on the investigation but acknowledged in a statement that “We parted ways with Melissa Francis nearly a year ago.”
Last October, Francis was pulled off both her regular co-hosting slot on midday roundtable show Outnumbered and her own mid-afternoon Fox Business Network program. At the time, Fox News did not publicly comment on her status, instead framing the changes as an example of the network going about its normal business.
“Fox News Media regularly considers programming changes, including to its daytime lineup, and will launch new formats as appropriate after the election,” a network spokesperson said last year. “These changes are being made independent of any other ongoing matter.”
The Los Angeles Times, however, reported that Francis was actually locked in a gender-based pay discrimination dispute with the company, which had gone into arbitration when she was removed from the airwaves. Francis, a former TV child star who had been with Fox for eight years, had reportedly been working without a contract for roughly a year.
Francis specifically complained that she was underpaid compared to her male colleagues, the Times further reported—something Fox News would not comment on at the time, citing confidentiality.
The Daily Beast has learned this week that New York’s labor department has an ongoing investigation into Francis’ complaints about pay disparity and allegations that the network retaliated against her for raising those claims. The probe was opened in March of this year.
The employee rights attorney, who confirmed Francis no longer works for Fox, added: “We are pleased that the Department is conducting an appropriate investigation in response to her charge. We will refrain from further comment until that investigation has concluded.”
The news that New York’s labor department is investigating Fox News comes just a few months after the network settled with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights for $1 million over what the government deemed “a pattern of violating the NYC Human Rights Law.” The settlement represented an effective admission to retaliating against staffers over sexual misconduct and discrimination claims. (The commission began its investigation in July 2016 after Ailes was fired over multiple sexual misconduct allegations including former Fox host Gretchen Carlson’s damning lawsuit. A formal complaint was filed by the commission in December 2018.)
Besides requiring Fox News to remove confidential arbitration clauses from the contracts of on-air talent amid outside legal claims, the media empire’s settlement agreement “also demands immediate changes to policies surrounding reporting sexual harassment, retaliation, training, and compliance.”
Reacting to the NYC Human Rights settlement, Fox News at the time said it was “pleased to reach an amicable resolution” while noting that the violations in the commission’s report occurred before current Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott had taken over.
Multiple lawsuits against the network alleged that Scott helped enable former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’ culture of harassment. But Fox has steadfastly defended the network boss as having revamped the workplace. “FOX News Media has worked tirelessly to completely change the company culture over the last five years,” a spokesperson said of Scott back in July. “Under the leadership of CEO Suzanne Scott, the network has implemented annual, mandatory in-person harassment prevention training, created an entirely new reporting structure, more than tripled the size of our HR footprint, started quarterly company meetings and mentoring events, as well as implemented a zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace misconduct for which we engage outside independent firms to handle investigations.”
Fox News has also cited its recent recognition as a “Great Place to Work-Certified” company as proof of “the many cultural changes” Scott has implemented during her tenure.
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.