In a lawsuit filed Tuesday night in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, two black women said they were subjected to “top-down racial harassment” in the Fox News payroll department by Judith Slater, the company’s longtime comptroller.
The women — Tichaona Brown, a payroll manager, and Tabrese Wright, a payroll coordinator — accused Ms. Slater of making numerous racially charged comments, including suggestions that black men were “women beaters” and that black people wanted to physically harm white people.
They also said that Ms. Slater claimed that black employees mispronounced words, such as “mother,” “father,” “month” and “ask,” and that she urged Ms. Brown to say those words aloud in a meeting. Ms. Wright said Ms. Slater once asked if her three children were all “fathered by the same man.”
“We are confident that the good men and women of the Bronx will hold Fox accountable for what we believe to be its abhorrent racist conduct, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor and Jeanne Christensen of the Wigdor law firm, said in a statement. The firm also represents two employees of The New York Times in a pending federal lawsuit against The Times, alleging age, race and gender discrimination.
Ms. Brown and Ms. Wright are suing Ms. Slater, Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, claiming that Ms. Slater’s superiors did little to address her behavior, which created a hostile work environment that resulted in “severe and pervasive discrimination and harassment.”
Ms. Wright, who joined Fox in mid-2014 and had spoken up about Ms. Slater’s behavior, was transferred out of the payroll department on Monday, a move the lawsuit described as a demotion. The company described it as a lateral move. While the suit contends that Ms. Brown, who joined Fox in late 2008, was fired on Monday, the company said on Tuesday night that she remained employed. Both women declined a Fox settlement offer, according to the suit.
The company said on Tuesday night that it took immediate action after learning about the allegations against Ms. Slater and fired her on Feb. 28.
“We take complaints of this nature very seriously and took prompt and effective remedial action before Ms. Brown and Ms. Wright sued in court and even before Ms. Wright complained through her lawyer,” the company said in a statement. “There is no place for inappropriate verbal remarks like this at Fox News. We are disappointed that this needless litigation has been filed.”
Fox News did not provide contact information for Ms. Slater, and it was not clear if she had retained legal counsel.
The suit also includes allegations that Ms. Slater made disparaging comments about Ms. Wright’s hair and credit score. She and Ms. Brown said Ms. Slater had mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and referred to their majority-black department as the “urban” or “Southern” payroll department.
The lawsuit included the names of four other black employees who it said left or were forced out and cited similar accusations of discrimination.