LOS ANGELES, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Fox News Channel personality Bill O'Reilly might settle the sexual-harassment case against him out of court, but a Hollywood corporate consultant on harassment and other workplace issues says the scandal might have been avoided if either O'Reilly or the network had done a better job of training that corporate employees are supposed to receive.
O'Reilly, 55, landed at the center of the controversy two weeks ago after news reports that he and Fox planned legal action against a 33-year-old producer on his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," accusing her of extortion over accusations that O'Reilly had harassed her repeatedly and spoken to her in explicitly sexual language. After TheSmokingGun.com posted a copy of producer Andrea Mackris' complaint against O'Reilly -- replete with frank and vulgar language attributed to him -- he vowed to fight the charges.
O'Reilly made a public statement on his TV show, then -- on the advice of counsel -- said he would not discuss the matter publicly any further.
Dave Bowman, founder and chairman of TTG Consultants, told United Press International cases of sexual harassment come about, in many cases, because many companies are not familiar with federal law -- and many human-resources specialists do not know they need to train employees about workplace harassment.
"It's a real problem, because the whole issue surrounds perception on both sides," said Bowman. "What one person thinks is a compliment, another person thinks of as harassment."
However, judging by the content of Mackris' complaint there seems to be little likelihood that the O'Reilly case is a simple matter of an innocuous compliment by one employee being misinterpreted by a co-worker.
Bowman -- whose clients have included CBS, The Walt Disney Co., LucasFilm, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures -- said companies covered by the law are required to publish sexual-harassment policies in employee manuals and establish a mechanism for investigating complaints of harassment. He said, however, a significant aspect of the requirement -- to train employees frequently on harassment -- is a little trickier for managers to negotiate.
"Neither the courts nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have said how frequent the training should be," said Bowman. "However, many of the court cases seem to suggest that, to be on the safe side, a company or a corporation should do that about once a year."
Bowman said that, considering the requirement for training, either O'Reilly or Fox might have a serious problem with the Mackris matter.
"I do not know if O'Reilly has been trained," he said. "If Fox did not train O'Reilly, then Fox is going to probably find themselves in some trouble. If they did train O'Reilly, they may be off the hook. In other words, the law is saying they don't expect employers to look over employees' shoulders every five minutes."
Bowman said if the company did provide O'Reilly with appropriate sexual-harassment training, he has problems.
"He could be sued for a lot of money," said Bowman, "particularly because he's a supervisor and should know better."
Although ratings for "The O'Reilly Factor" spiked after the news of the allegations against him, the contretemps has had a negative impact on sales of his new book, "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids" -- in which he advises young people on a range of personal issues including sex.
So far, the O'Reilly scandal has not been as much of a preoccupation with the media as other sex scandals have been in the past.
Even though the married father of two has the highest-rated show on the top-rated cable news channel, his personal scandal does not compare, for example, with the scandal involving Bill Clinton when he was president. Also, O'Reilly's tribulation is occurring at a time when most news organizations have most of their resources committed to covering the upcoming election.
And, as commentator Margaret Carlson has observed, the scandal is not getting the sort of play on Fox News Channel that otherwise might raise the ante for cable competitors to get more aggressive with their O'Reilly coverage.
"There's no bigger scold or sterner values enforcer on TV than O'Reilly," said Carlson in a recent column. "He feasted on Bill Clinton like no other -- and ordinarily he'd be on top of such a story. But this time he is the one sitting in the eye of the storm."
Carlson said the rest of the Fox lineup has also been relatively silent on the story.
"Apparently, there are no morals police to police the morals police," she said.
The O'Reilly case brings to mind the sensational 1997 sexual-assault case against sportscaster Marv Albert. He denied the charges against him, but when the case went to court the public heard lots of lurid details about his sex life.
The trial ended when Albert pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery on a woman with whom he had maintained a long-term affair. It seemed at first that Albert's career might be over, but he has bounced back and has called NBA games on TNT since 1999.
If O'Reilly and Fox settle with Mackris out of court, they -- and the public -- will be spared at least that aspect of the public spectacle. However, considering the allegations and details that have already seeped into the public square, it would seem that O'Reilly's standing as an authority on appropriate behavior has been significantly undercut.
If he stages a comeback, an early sign could be an improvement in sales of "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids."
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