Conservative Commentator Bill O'Reilly faces sexual harassment charges

The October 14th headline from the New York Daily News shouted "O'REALLY!" to announce charges of sexual harassment against Bill O'Reilly. The previous day O'Reilly — a well-known TV anchor for Fox News and The O'Reilly Factor — filed a lawsuit. O'Reilly alleged his former associate producer, Andrea Mackris, tried to extort $60 million from him. Hours later, Mackris responded with her own lawsuit. Her charges? That O'Reilly had sexually harassed her on several occasions.

If the details in Mackris' 22-page lawsuit are true, the story is shocking. It could have spelled disaster for O'Reilly given his conservative moral stance and his recent publication of a children's book of advice. Mackris' charged sexual harassment - over the TELEPHONE! In her lawsuit, Mackris claimed that during an August 2nd phone call, O'Reilly suggested she "purchase a vibrator and name it." Not only was O'Reilly suggesting masturbation, but he was supposedly performing a lewd act while he spoke to her. When he finished, he said he appreciated "the fun phone call." Mackris' lawsuit states she felt "as if the floor had fallen out from beneath her. She was shocked, frightened and upset. She felt trapped." During a September 1st phone call, O'Reilly started sharing sexual fantasies, even when Mackris refused to participate.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states what we might think to be the obvious. Any obscene or offensive speech, photos or materials should be kept out of the workplace. And while Mackris may have been offended, did she feel that it affected the way she interacted with others in the office, the way she did her work or whether she knew or felt that it would jeopardize or improve her position depending on how she responded? In other words, do O'Reilly's actions rise to the level of illegality?

According to EEOC statistics, annual sexual harassment complaints have hovered at roughly 15,000 for seven straight years before dipping down to about 13,000 in 2003. Many cases take longer than a year to resolve. The EEOC said in 2003 more than 14,000 open cases reached resolution. Of those, more than 12 percent were settled between the two parties. About 9 percent resulted in the victim withdrawing from the company with benefits, and about 8 percent found reasonable cause for action by the EEOC.

However, almost 50 percent of sexual harassment discrimination complaints

were found to have "no reasonable cause." Mackris' lawsuit states the 33-year-old woman and her 55-year-old boss went to dinner on August 24th when O'Reilly said, "You have a bright career ahead of you." Later in the conversation, O'Reilly allegedly "again started talking about sex, and suggested that if he had a hotel room that night he would have invited her up." He suggested the vibrator purchase again and offered to coach her through it. As the conversation continued, O'Reilly changed his comments, seeming to cover his bases.

A standoff could have ensued between Mackris and O'Reilly. He however chose to settle out of court providing Mackris with an undisclosed amount of money. The question we are all left with is: Will the Mackris debacle soil O'Reilly's public reputation?