Within a year of longtime Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly being forced out of the company following allegations they sexually harassed numerous subordinates, Fox Sports has removed a top executive amid a sexual harassment probe.
On Monday, Fox Sports National president Jamie Horowitz was fired by the network after having been on the job for two years. Los Angeles-based Fox Sports president Eric Shanks announced Horowitz’s departure via an internal email sent to company employees at 1:06 p.m. ET.
Wrote Shanks: “I regret to inform you that Jamie Horowitz, President of National Networks for FOX Sports, will be leaving FOX Sports effective immediately. We realize this news may come as a surprise for many of you, but we are confident in this decision. Everyone at FOX Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to—should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times. These values are non-negotiable. Until Jamie’s replacement is named, I am stepping in to handle his former responsibilities including programming, marketing and scheduling for FS1 and FS2, as well as digital. All of these functions will now report directly to me. We understand how difficult this will be for many of you, but in these times it is important that we remain unwavering and focused in continuing the great work of FOX Sports.”
The company did not issue a reason for the firing in Shanks’s email but three sources told Sports Illustrated on Monday that it was related to a sexual harassment investigation of Horowitz by the company’s human resources department. The Los Angeles Times first reported that Horowitz was fired amid a probe of sexual harassment.
Horowitz’s lawyer, prominent Los Angeles attorney Patricia Glaser, told SI.com in an email that, “The way he has been treated by Fox is appalling. At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or by human resources of any misconduct or an inability to adhere to professional conduct. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job—a job that, until today, he has performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
Horowitz did not respond to a text from SI.com on the specific charges.
Horowitz’s departure from Fox Sports could quickly become a legal controversy. For one, Horowitz could potentially sue Fox for breach of contract. Such a claim would become more likely if Horowitz’s employment contract contains language that impacts how much he is paid upon being fired and if Horowitz believes he has been denied full payment.
In addition, the amount of money Horowitz was owed upon firing could be impacted by whether Fox fired him “for cause”—meaning fired on grounds that he violated a contractual term or a Fox company policy—or whether Horowitz violated a so-called “morals clause” in his contract, or both.
Horowitz may also have contractual rights that ensured he would be provided with sufficient notice and resources to rebut any allegations. Glaser might contend that Fox denied Horowitz an opportunity to meaningfully respond to the allegations. It appears that Horowitz was fired within a few days, including weekend days, after being notified of the allegations. Whether such time was legally sufficient could become a contended matter in a lawsuit.
Glaser might also be poised to argue that Horowitz has been treated unfairly by Fox because of Fox’s recent problems with Fox executives accused of sexual harassment. Fox has faced multiple lawsuits stemming from accusations brought by female Fox employees against O’Reilly and the late Ailes. Fox reportedly paid former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson $20 million to settle her lawsuit and reached settlements with other accusers. Glaser might assert that Fox rushed to judgment on Horowitz not because of the strength or severity of the allegations but because of fear of being sued by women who have accused Horowitz.
There is no doubt that Glaser will be closely watching statements made by Fox executives about her client. In addition to potential contractual claims, Glaser might consider the possibility of suing Fox for defamation. Any statement about Horowitz that is untrue and reputationally damaging could provide grounds for a possible defamation lawsuit.
An attorney for Fox, Dan Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers, contends that Horowitz doesn’t have a case. “Horowitz’s termination was fully warranted,” Petrocelli said in a statement Monday afternoon. “[Glaser’s] accusations are ill-informed and misguided.” If Petrocelli’s name sounds familiar, it is because Petrocelli successfully represented Fred Goldman in securing a $33.5 million judgment against O.J. Simpson for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The fact that Glaser and Petrocelli, two leading attorneys in Los Angeles, are the principal lawyers in the Horowitz-Fox dispute suggests that a legal fight looms.
Still, Fox and Horowitz might be motivated to resolve any legal differences out of court, such as through private mediation. Both sides may have concerns about the possibility of damaging disclosures—whether in emails or in witness testimonies—that could become public during litigation. For good or bad, a lawsuit is a public way of resolving a disagreement and thus poses reputational risks to all involved.
The firing of Horowitz comes exactly one week after Fox Sports announced it had eliminated more than 20 writing and editing positions in Los Angeles—as well as opted not to re-sign some existing writers. The strategy, as laid out by Horowitz and clearly signed off on by his bosses, was to shift resources from written content to video content highlighting Fox Sports’s on-air personalities, a collection of brash voices who offer loud takes on the sports news of the day. Given the abrupt departure of Horowitz, it is unclear whether Fox will support that strategy heading forward. If it changes course, it will do so with a dearth of editorial talent.