A lawyer who investigated and filed the discrimination lawsuit against Fox News on behalf of reporter Catherine Herridge stressed that even though some of the claims made by Herridge were resolved, Fox may still be liable for alleged retaliation.
The lawsuit, field Thursday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Fox News, alleges that Herridge was the victim of retaliation because she had complained to Fox management about gender and age discrimination.
The suit contends that for nine months between 2008 and 2009 Herridge was denied a new contract because she refused to sign a deal that included a reference to a previous discrimination complaint she had made.
Even though Fox eventually withdrew the reference to the previous complaint and Herridge signed it, the lawsuit claims Fox may still be liable for the nine months she had been allegedly retaliated against.
"It is not unusual that a victim of discrimination comes to us after the discrimination has occurred," said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC Charlotte District Office that oversees Washington, D.C. "The fact that the discrimination stops does not mean the company is not liable."
Media Matters also noted earlier today that Fox and its parent company, News Corp. have a recent history of discrimination complaints.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S District Court, contends that "Herridge worked without the benefit of an employment contract for approximately nine months, during which time she was constantly in fear of being discharged, losing her livelihood and losing her medical insurance benefits, among other things."
It added, "the effect of the practices complained of above has been to deprive Herridge of equal employment opportunities and otherwise affect her employment status."
Barnes noted, "she has two children, one with a serious medical condition and she was concerned about losing medical insurance and that she could be fired at any time."
Barnes compared Herridge's situation with a disabled employee at a company who is promised an aide to help him or her and denied that person for nine months. "They are still guilty of the violation that occurred for nine months."
Asked how severe such a lawsuit is in terms of the EEOC believing there is a cause of action, Barnes said, "By the time the EEOC filed litigation, we have conducted an investigation that would mean talking to the company responsible, the claimant and possible witnesses. The EEOC has done an investigation and believes that there has been a violation of the law."
She added that Fox has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit, which could then be dismissed by a judge, settled out of court or eventually go to trial.
Even though Herridge has remained on the job and did not lose her position, Barnes said Fox could be guilty of a violation: "There are different types of harm that an individual can suffer. It is not always losing a job or harassment. Sometimes people have emotional damage. We feel strongly that people should be able to file a complaint without penalty."
Barnes also noted that such complaints are on the rise, pointing to statistics that reveal retaliation complaints filed with the EEOC had increased from 18,198 in 1997 to 33,613 in 2009.
"They are very common," Barnes said.
Herridge has been unavailable for comment and Fox has yet to respond to requests for a response.