Fox News paid Melissa Francis $15 million after pay disparity claim

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Fox News has agreed to a roughly $15 million settlement with a former host who complained about gender-based pay disparities on the cable news network, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

Although the kind of sum won by Melissa Francis, an on-air personality on several shows on Fox News and Fox Business Network from 2012 to 2020, is unusual in television news, it underscores lingering concerns that women are not thriving. not as well as men in this industry – an issue that Francis says she personally tried to investigate by researching what her peers earned at Fox.

Francis and his attorney declined to comment on the settlement, which was not previously reported. Francis separately filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor, claiming that Fox retaliated against her after she reported wage disparities on the network. Her attorney, Kevin Mintzer, said she filed the pending lawsuit with the state “not for herself but for the women in the business who are left behind.”

In a statement, a Fox News spokesperson said, “We parted ways with Melissa Francis over a year and a half ago and her allegations were completely without merit. We have also fully cooperated with the New York State Department of Labor investigation and look forward to the conclusion of this matter.

The amount paid to Francis matches the blockbuster deals the network has offered to a number of female employees who filed sexual misconduct and harassment claims against Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes and former primetime star Bill O’Reilly. Mintzer said that despite Fox News’ promises to improve its climate since those allegations were settled, “what happened to Melissa shows that sexism and retaliation remain a common practice in the business.”

Fox’s spokesperson responded that the company had radically transformed its culture, program lineup and leadership ranks over the past few years, adding, “Fox News has always been committed to treating all employees fairly, which we have consistently demonstrated over our 26-year history, and we are extremely proud of our company.

A lawyer unrelated to the case who has helped women receive settlements from other networks said the size of Francis’ award suggests Fox realized she would be in a weak position to defend herself. in court against a lawsuit. “For such a large settlement, you’d probably need pretty compelling evidence of an obvious and glaring wage disparity,” said Ari Wilkenfeld, a partner at Atkinson Law Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

Francis, 49, a former child actress and Harvard University graduate who had covered financial news for CNBC, was first hired by Fox in 2012 as an anchor for Fox Business. After making numerous appearances on Fox News, she was promoted in November 2017 by the flagship channel as a permanent co-host of its lunchtime ensemble show “Outnumbered,” where she and anchor Harris Faulkner were joined by a rotating panel of two other women and a single male panelist, labeled the “One Lucky Guy”. During this time, Francis continued to co-host Fox Business’ “After the Bell” show and made frequent appearances on Tucker Carlson’s popular prime-time opinion show on Fox News.

But on October 7, 2020, she abruptly stopped appearing on either network.

In an interview, Francis described the events that she believes led to her being taken off the air.

After Fox offered Francis her promotion in 2017, she said she got a negligible increase in her pay. She believed her salary, which was less than $1 million, was far below what her peers earned. But she agreed to wait for the next contract negotiation in 2019. In the meantime, she asked former colleagues and agents what other people were earning at Fox News.

The spreadsheet she created with the data she found was adjusted for certain variables, she said, including whether someone was working as a solo presenter, who is usually better paid, or in part of a whole. She also took into account a host’s typical airtime – prime-time opinion show hosts are generally paid more than daytime presenters – and adjusted for experience and grades. But the trends remained consistent, she said: men were paid many times more than their female counterparts.

On November 11, 2019, Francis had a call with Dianne Brandi, a former Fox News executive vice president of legal and business affairs who continues to represent Fox in certain contract negotiations. When Brandi told her that her new contract wouldn’t include a pay increase, Francis said she responded by telling Brandi about her research and the “pretty staggering gender pay gap” that she had found, mentioning her calculations regarding the salaries of some Fox daytime hosts. .

Francis said Brandi urged her to try a different approach to negotiating her salary and retorted, “That’s how the world works. Women earn less. It’s just a fact. At the time, Fox had recently appointed several women to leadership positions, including Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott. (Another, executive vice president and general counsel Lily Fu Claffee, left the company in April of last year, shortly after authorizing the settlement Francis would eventually receive.)

Speaking on behalf of Brandi, a Fox News spokesperson said, “Melissa Francis’ version of this conversation is false and patently absurd.”

“It is illogical that anyone with Dianne Brandi’s level of experience negotiating talent contracts for a living would make such a ridiculous statement,” the spokesperson added.

In her interview with The Post, Francis said she loves working at Fox, even though she and her family have been very critical of the network’s conservative and often controversial stances.

Fox, she added, gave her more freedom than other outlets where she had worked.

Francis said a Fox human resources executive was later also unresponsive to his salary concerns. In January 2020, Francis’ attorney requested disclosure of the salaries of other Fox News personalities. Fox denied the request. She entered into arbitration with the company in August of the same year. On Oct. 7, the date the arbitrator had set as the deadline for Fox News to release salary information, Francis was in his home studio preparing for his 4 p.m. episode of “After the Bell.” At 3:45 p.m., she said she saw a message flash on the teleprompter: “You have been cancelled.”

She no longer appeared on the air.

Francis officially resigned from Fox News on February 2, 2021 and later filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor, alleging she had been retaliated against for reporting a pay disparity in her network. .

The department declined to comment, saying it “does not comment on open and ongoing investigations.”

Mintzer, Francis’ attorney, said, “We look forward to receiving the results of their investigation.”

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