Gretchen Carlson, the longtime Fox News anchor, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday saying that Roger Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News, fired her from the network last month after she refused his sexual advances and complained to him about discriminatory treatment in the newsroom.
The nature of Carlson’s allegations immediately transfixed the world of television news, where Ailes is a hugely influential figure known for demanding absolute loyalty from his employees.
A spokeswoman for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit – filed in Superior Court in New Jersey, where Ailes maintains a residence – portrays the Fox chairman as a loutish and serial sexual harasser, accusing him of ogling Carlson in his office, calling her “sexy” and making sexually charged comments about her physical appearance.
Carlson, who joined Fox in 2005, contends that during a meeting last fall to discuss her concerns that she was not being treated fairly, Ailes told her: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
When she rebuffed him, the lawsuit claims, Ailes retaliated by reducing Carlson’s salary, curtailing her on-air appearances and, to her surprise, declining to renew her contract last month.
The lawsuit arrives at a complex moment for Ailes, a towering figure in television and Republican politics who has overseen virtually every aspect of Fox News Channel over the cable network’s hugely successful two-decade run.
While he retains the loyalty of his corporate boss, Rupert Murdoch, Ailes has sometimes clashed with Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, who have ascended to the most senior leadership roles in Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. And Fox News, despite high ratings and big profits, has been less of a dominant political force in this year’s presidential election, with the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, publicly clashing with the network and some of its anchors.
Carlson’s suit, filed by the law firm Smith Mullin in Montclair, N.J., names Mr. Ailes as the sole defendant and seeks a variety of compensatory damages. Her lead attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said in an interview that Carlson’s grievance was with Ailes, not the Fox network.
Smith said that other women who said they had similar experiences with Ailes had contacted her, although she declined to name them. A 2014 biography of Ailes, by the journalist Gabriel Sherman, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,’’ recounted an episode in the 1980s, when Ailes was at NBC, involving a woman named Randi Harrison who said Ailes offered her an extra $100 a week in salary in exchange for having sex with him “whenever I want.” (Fox News denied the claim at the time.)
Carlson’s allegations are sure to roil the ranks of Fox News, with Carlson describing a boys’ club environment that extends beyond Ailes.
In her suit, Carlson contends that, in 2009 she complained to the network about her co-host on the “Fox & Friends” morning show, Steve Doocy, saying he belittled her on the set, openly mocked her among colleagues and once tried to shush her during a live broadcast by pulling down her arm
Ailes, the lawsuit states, responded by calling Carlson a “man hater” and saying “she needed to learn to ‘get along with the boys.’ ” Carlson claims that Ailes eventually reassigned her from “Fox & Friends,” in 2013, to a less prestigious slot in the afternoon.
Until last month, Carlson was still hosting that program, “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson,” on the network. The show consistently won its time slot, averaging 1.1 million viewers in recent months.
From April to June, Carlson’s show was the 24th-highest-rated cable news show in the closely tracked demographic of viewers 25 to 54 years old.
Carlson’s announcement of her lawsuit on Wednesday was carefully coordinated. A public-relations firm distributed copies of the complaint to reporters. Shortly afterward, on Twitter, Carlson offered thanks for an “outpouring of support” and introduced a hashtag: #StandWithGretchen. By the afternoon, a link to her lawsuit was prominently posted on her personal website.
Hours later, Fox News, which is famously quick to counter even slight criticisms, still had not issued a response.