Why Erin Andrews' $55 million settlement isn't nearly enough

Mar 9, 2016 at 6:14 p.m. ET
Image: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

After a jury awarded Fox sportscaster Erin Andrews $55 million in her lawsuit against stalker Michael David Barrett and the Nashville Marriott that revealed her room number to him and then gave him the room next door, an avalanche of both criticism and support has poured in.

More: Erin Andrews emotionally explains how her stalker destroyed her career

Misogynists have unleashed their vitriol:


Women have tweeted their support:


And some have even called for a boycott of Marriott Hotels:


The anger over the number that she was awarded — $55 million — is an issue for many. But it shows a lack of understanding about monetary awards in cases such as these. First of all, she’s not getting near that amount. According to TMZ, the case will probably settle for $20 million and then, after lawyers' fees and what Barrett owes versus what Marriott owes, Andrews will likely walk away with $6 million.

Attorney Vikki Ziegler explains that the number correlates to how much it needs to hurt a business for them to change their policy. “$55 million sends a message and is a punishment to Marriott, even if Andrews never sees a dime.” A smaller settlement, let’s say $2 million, is chump change to a billion-dollar business and would not likely result in policy reform. The number is more about consequences.

More importantly, Andrews works in a male-dominated industry where she is objectified behind her back anyway. Now add to it that the men she works with no longer have to use their imaginations. They can call up those actual images wherever they would like. It has an everlasting negative impact on an image she’s worked extremely hard to create. Barrett reduced her to just another naked celebrity. And it’s insidious. Andrews herself has said in her testimony that it doesn’t go away; it’s the first thing people think about despite her impressive accomplishments.

“Either I get a tweet, or somebody makes a comment in the paper, or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter, or somebody screams it at me in the stands. And I’m right back to this.”

“[$55 million] is a victory for all women. Men do not understand,” author and TV host Jane Velez-Mitchell told Dr. Drew after the verdict. “Erin Andrews lives in a testosterone-filled world. Every man she interviews, she’s got to look him in the eye and think, ‘Has he seen me naked?’ This is a violation.”

Celebrities work hard to control their image, but they also get to choose which image they would like to put out to the world. Andrews isn't Farrah Abraham, a reality star from Teen Mom, who has chosen to embrace her sexuality and use it to her advantage. Andrews has said herself that being taken seriously is now a challenge, which makes her unique in her industry. Name one male sports reporter who was violated in such a way.

Comparisons are being made. TV commentators are asking how this differs from 2014’s celebrity phone-hacking case known as “the fappening;” the one Jennifer Lawrence called a sex crime.

For Andrews, it was a complete invasion of her privacy. There was no expectation that anyone would see her. But for the actresses violated in 2014, some have said that the celebrities created those images themselves. They existed. Therefore, legally, there could be some expectation a photo could leak. The career of a sports journalist, arguably, could suffer more damage than that of an actress who could potentially choose to do nude scenes.

Outraged, the New York Daily News made the comparison to the Eric Garner case asking why his family only received $5.9 million. To that, Ziegler explains that it has to do with being found guilty versus a wrongful death case that was settled out of court where guilt is implied, but not the verdict.

Garner’s family and many of the families of wrongful death cases deserve more than they get, but that isn’t what this case is. As Ziegler says, “These two cases are disparate and should not be compared.” She says, “Both cases have very little commonalities… It’s not that a person’s life is less valuable than a woman who has been humiliated, but different legal standards [apply].”

The man who recorded Andrews reduced her to his fantasy, which is what men have been doing to women for decades, and in that case, $55 million is not enough. Not even close.