The ‘Bombshell’ Movie & Workplace Harassment

As Texas employment lawyers, we were some of the first in line to see “Bombshell,” the star-studded film about allegations of sexual harassment against former Fox CEO Roger Ailes and the toxic workplace he oversaw at Fox News.

Even though the movie refers to itself as a “fictionalized account” of the behind-the-scenes happenings at Fox, we couldn’t help but notice the realistic depiction of workplace sexual harassment. While it’s terrible that so many women have endured this sort of sexual harassment, it’s important – and perhaps a turning point – when stories like these make their way into mainstream media.

For those who haven’t seen the movie yet, we’ll start with a background of Roger Ailes’s story, and the women who brought him down.

Bombshell: What’s the Backstory?

The movie Bombshell, which is currently in theaters, follows the women of Fox News who accused former CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Specifically, the movie tells the story of Megyn Kelly (portrayed by Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) who headed a group of more than 20 women who accused Ailes of sexual harassment.

According to Gretchen Carlson, she complained about “pervasive sexist treatment” as early as 2009 and Ailes called her a “man hater” and told her she needed to “get along with the boys.” The comments and harassment didn’t stop there. Ailes would ogle her and eventually suggested they have a sexual relationship. After Carlson objected, Ailes sabotaged her career: underpaying her, giving her fewer assignments, and ultimately firing her. While Carlson’s story is cringe-inducing enough, the allegations made by other women get downright nauseating.

Theron, who is one of the film’s producers as well as its star, described the movie as an exploration of the “gray area” of sexual harassment. As a victim of sexual harassment herself, Theron explained, “It’s not always physical assault. It’s not always rape. There’s a psychological damage that happens for women in the everyday casualness of language, touch or threat- threat of losing your job. Those are things I’ve definitely encountered.” To read Theron’s full interview with NPR, click here.

Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, I also strongly recommend watching Megyn Kelly Presents: A Response to “Bombshell,” in which Kelly watches the movie with several women who were portrayed in the movie. The women say that the movie, with a few exceptions, is pretty accurate – although one says it let Ailes off too easy. It’s worth noting that Gretchen Carlson, who is (much to her chagrin) bound by a non-disclosure agreement, was not at the viewing party.

Hollywood & Workplace Harassment

It wasn’t that long ago when Hollywood shined a spotlight on corporate environmental abuse with the hit movie “Erin Brockovich.” Now, it appears sexual harassment is getting its turn at center stage. When the #MeToo movement broke the silence and Harvey Weinstein was implicated in Hollywood’s culture of sexual misconduct, it seemed only natural that the trending topic would become ripe for the big screen.

As attorneys who represent victims of workplace harassment, we know that harassment isn’t only illegal – it’s disgusting. While some victims may be triggered seeing portrayals of harassment on the big (and small) screen, we think it’s a step in the right direction that this issue is finally getting national attention.

For far too long, workplace harassment, and particularly sexual harassment, have been brushed under the rug. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 76% of sexual harassment victims do not report the harassment out of fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing would change. The SHRM findings are consistent with figures the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) have previously reported.

The SHRM survey also found that “verbal harassment, including unwanted sexual advances through words and comments, is the most common form of sexual harassment.” This is consistent with the depiction of workplace harassment in “Bombshell.” According to the head of SHRM, Johnny Taylor Jr., “unspoken cultural norms can allow inappropriate behavior…[t]his is why a culture of respect and training are important.”

Perhaps, with more media attention on the cultural norms that lead to this type of behavior we can begin to evolve. Only time will tell.

Workplace Harassment: What to Do

In the workplace, actionable sexual harassment ranges from offensive sexual innuendos to unwanted sexual advances to threats and sexual assault. If you’ve experienced any of these types of behaviors, you have rights. There are federal and state laws that protect you from sexual harassment.

According to the EEOC’s own website, “harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature…and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.” While the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing or isolated incidents, harassment is illegal when it becomes so frequent or severe that it creates an offensive work environment or results in firing or demotion.

Jackson Spencer Law Attorneys Are Here to Help

If you have been terminated because of harassment or are still facing harassment in the workplace, contact us right away. We can help you reclaim the dignity at work that you deserve. We’ll discuss your situation during a free consultation, answer your questions, and explain next steps.