Gawker is reporting that Fox News discriminated against longtime anchor Shepard Smith because Smith is gay and decided last year to finally, officially, come out.
If true, Fox News’ actions could constitute a violation of both New York city and state (2002) employment law, which bans job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Fox News is denying the story, and claims Gawker got some details wrong.
It has long been rumored that Smith is gay – a gay Fox News employee told me that he knew for a fact that Smith was gay over ten years ago. But what Gawker is alleging is entirely new.
Gawker is claiming that Smith had intended to come out last year, was told “no” by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, and that because of internal fears that Smith might come out anyway, and Fox News’ conservative audience would not approve of a gay host, Fox essentially demoted Smith, removing him from the network’s prime-time line-up.
Smith, in fact, has not come out publicly. Though he as been seen in NYC with his reported boyfriend.
Fox News’ actions, if true, could be a violation of the New York State and New York City human rights laws, which prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Smith is not, however, protected by federal law, which permits job discrimination against people who are gay.
Such discrimination would be outlawed under the proposed ENDA legislation (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), which has been languishing before Congress for decades.
While I wouldn’t expect Smith, a longtime and loyal Fox News employee, to sue the network for discrimination, all bets are off if the network pushes him too far, and/or lets him go.
Smith is also now in an odd position. If the allegations are true, Fox News may want him to publicly deny them. Of course, such pressure from Fox News could only add to Smith’s ultimate damages in any future court case.