Gretchen Carlson had no inkling that she would ignite a movement when she sued Roger Ailes, then chairman and CEO of Fox News for sexual harassment in the workplace.
In fact, she thought she would be sitting at home crying her eyes out for the rest of her life, having lost the career in which she’d worked so hard to achieve success. Her story is anything but a story of lost opportunity and obscurity.
Instead, Carlson has expanded her journalism career, published acclaimed books, produced and hosted television shows, used her experience to champion groundbreaking legislation, and co-founded Lift Our Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to “creating positive, systemic changes in the American workplace through the eradication of nondisclosure agreements for toxic work issues and mandatory arbitration clauses.”
On March 3, 2022, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021into law. The act amends the Federal Arbitration Act and gives individuals asserting sexual assault or sexual harassment claims under federal, state or tribal law the option to bring those claims in court even if they had agreed to arbitrate such disputes before the claims arose.
“This was one of the biggest labor law changes in 100 years,” says Carlson of this legislation. “Women and men being harassed now have the opportunity to choose whether to accept arbitration or pursue an open jury process. And I’m not done! We are presently working on the Speak Out Act to remove another blockage to justice – non-disclosure agreements. If we can get rid of these, we also have a chance to stop harassment in the workplace.”
The Speak Out Act would prevent employers from enforcing nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements (NDAs) in instances when employees and workers report sexual misconduct. This bipartisan bill was introduced this summer and as of this writing, is working its way through the legislative process.
Solving the issues of harassment or abuse is like a tangled web, she says, with many different elements in play. “There’s no silver bullet” or easy remedy, and Carlson emphasizes that it’s important to work with other groups seeking justice for survivors, like CHILDUSA. “These organizations exist for a reason; there’s a lot of synergy and shared experience, and it’s important to band together, learn from each other, and work to educate the public, corporations, legislators and more.
“One huge point of intersection is the statute of limitations, Carlson continues. “So many states allow only one year to bring a complaint, but it takes so much courage to come forward! We have a lot of common ground with CHILDUSA, who has been working state by state to get those laws changed.”
Carlson’s desire is to empower survivors to come forward, to realize they are not alone. Acknowledging that it took years for her to “build up the courage to go up against one of the most powerful men in the world,” she is grateful to have helped may others by doing so through her story. “It’s not about me, it’s about moving forward,” she says.
However, it takes optimism, grit and funding to continue the essential work of organizations like CHILDUSA and Lift Our Voices. Unfortunately, these areas of work only attract about 3% of philanthropic funding, “so helping each other is huge. I am honored to accept the Barbara Blaine Trailblazer Award.”