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Attorney for Fox News Chief Ailes Cites Breach of Contract in Gretchen Carlson Case

Citing breaches in clauses in former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson’s employment contract, an attorney for network chief Roger Ailes have pushed to have her sexual-harassment suit against him moved to arbitration.

Gretchen Carlson had an arbitration clause in her contract, stating that any employment dispute regarding her employment at Fox News must be done via confidential arbitration. Because Ms. Carlson’s lawsuit violated the arbitration clause, a motion was filed in federal court to have the case arbitrated, said Barry Asen, a partner at Epstein, Becker and Green, the firm represents by the news executive. “The federal court is the proper court to decide the motion because Ms. Carlson’s primary residence is in Connecticut and Mr. Ailes’ primary residence is in New York.”

News of the maneuver was reported previously by Reuters, which said Ailes made the request in a filing in federal court in Newark, N.J.

The move is the latest twist in an eyebrow-raising episode that has gripped the media industry. Carlson, a veteran of Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” morning program who had been anchoring an hour on the cable-news network’s daytime lineup, on Wednesday filed suit in Superior Court of New Jersey, where Ailes has a residence,  alleging Ailes had propositioned her sexually after she raised the issue of how women were regarded at the network and how she was treated by “Friends” co-host Steve Doocy. Ailes has called the charges false and suggested they came in retaliation for Fox News not renewing her contract, which ended late last month.

Fox News Channel is the nation’s most-watched cable-news network, an influential player in the daily news cycle as well as this year’s Presidential election, and an integral financial component in the operations of its parent company, 21st Century Fox. Executives at the large entertainment conglomerate said Wednesday that they would conduct an “internal review” of the allegations against Ailes and Doocy.

Attorneys for Carlson took issue with the filing, noting her contract was with Fox News, but the suit was against Ailes as an individual. “Roger Ailes is trying to force this case into a secret arbitration proceeding. Gretchen never agreed to arbitrate anything with Mr. Ailes and the contract on which he relies does not mention him and is not signed by him,” said Nancy Erika Smith and Martin Hyman, attorneys for Carlson, in a statement. “Gretchen intends to fight for her right to a public jury trial, a right protected by the discrimination laws and our Constitution. It is disturbing that the head of a large media company would try to silence the press and hide from the public a matter of such importance.”

Whether Ailes’ efforts have an effect on Carlson’s nascent case remains to be seen. Her attorneys had been working to see if additional testimony could be generated by what they said were contacts from former employees of Fox News Channel and their associates, all of whom were said to have supported Carlson’s contention that the network was suffused in a sexually charged atmosphere. The lawyers also intended to raise examples cited in the 2014 book “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” an unauthorized Ailes biography by writer Gabriel Sherman, that pointed to examples of sexual harassment at the news outlet and by Ailes.

“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,” Carlson said in a statement released Wednesday.  “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.”

Carlson will have other challenges in pushing her case forward.  While she has alleged she was let go from the network after being sexually harassed,  Fox News’ position is that Carlson’s contract was not renewed because of the ratings performance of her 2 p.m. program “The Real Story,” which vies each day directly with an hour of “CNN Newsroom” anchored by Brooke Baldwin, as well as breaking-news coverage on MSNBC. Carlson’s attorneys have disputed that assertion and said Carlson held her own despite little support from Fox News.

[Updated 7:49 PM PT]

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