Although several women had accused then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment, forcing him to pay out large settlements to his accusers, Fox News stood by O’Reilly, one of the network’s most prominent figures, until April of this year.
A document published by the British government on Wednesday revealed that O’Reilly’s contract with Fox News barred the network from firing O’Reilly over sexual harassment accusations unless the allegations were proven in court. Fox News had to stand by O’Reilly for the remainder of his contract unless one of his accusers won in court.
Jacques Nasser, an independent director on the board of 21st Century Fox, told the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority about the contract provision, according to a summary of his remarks at an October hearing published by the authority.
The Competition and Markets Authority is reviewing 21st Century Fox’s bid to acquire British news outlet Sky News. Fox has seen scrutiny from British regulators over the way the company handled sexual harassment claims against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and O’Reilly.
Nasser said that 21st Century Fox’s board was aware of the settlements O’Reilly paid to his accusers, though not the specific sums, and that the board did not act on the allegations against O’Reilly in part due to the contract provision. Nasser said that some board members wanted to fire O’Reilly immediately, while others wanted to wait for his contract renewal. Ultimately, the board made sure that when O’Reilly’s contract was renewed, it did not include a clause barring the company from firing him over allegations, Nasser said.
A few months later, O’Reilly left the network. He was ousted from Fox News after the New York Times revealed in April that O’Reilly or the company had paid settlements to five women who accused him of sexual harassment. The Times then reported in October that O’Reilly had paid a $32 million settlement to a former Fox News analyst who accused O’Reilly of sexual misconduct in January, only about a month before Fox renewed his contract.
The Competition and Markets Authority is reviewing the possible merger following a review from the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom. In an August letter, Ofcom wrote that its review of Fox found “significant corporate failures” when it came to “alleged behaviors.” The letter did not specify the allegations, but it’s possible Ofcom was referring to the way Fox handled sexual harassment allegations.
H/t Bloomberg News