Photographer: Alexander F. Yuan/Bloomberg
business

Fox Must Defend Bias Suit as Judge Slams `Boorish' Narrative

Updated on
  • Federal judge also narrows 2017 lawsuit by Scottie Nell Hughes
  • She claims in suit company ignored attack by Fox anchor

Scottie Nell Hughes

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

A federal judge ordered 21st Century Fox Inc. to defend a lawsuit by a former Fox News contributor who claimed she was raped by a longtime anchor and that her complaint was ignored by the company.

The ruling Tuesday is a blow to the company as it defends what U.S. District Judge William Pauley called “a cavalcade of sexual harassment suits plaguing Fox.” While narrowing the suit by Scottie Nell Hughes, the judge said she had alleged enough facts for some of her claims to move forward. Pauley didn’t rule on the merits while denying Fox’s bid to dismiss the case in its entirely.

Charles Payne

Photographer: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Fox News previously called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt” that has no merit and “is downright shameful.” Charles Payne, the host of “Making Money” on Fox Business, whom Hughes accused of the assault, has called the complaint baseless.

Fox Sued Over Ex-Panelist’s Claim She Was Sexually Assaulted

Hughes claims that after she reported Payne’s July 2013 assault to an outside law firm investigating sexual harassment at the network in late June, she became a victim of a public-relations smear campaign.

Her name was leaked to the National Enquirer and the tabloid was given a “self-serving statement,” allegedly drafted by Payne, in which he expressed his sorrow at having engaged in an affair with Hughes, according to the complaint in Manhattan federal court.

The lawsuit names Fox, Fox News, Payne and two other individuals associated with the company.

A lawyer for Payne didn’t immediately return requests for comment. Caley Cronin, a spokeswoman for Fox, and Doug Wigdor, a lawyer for Hughes, declined to comment.

In his opinion, Pauley allowed claims of gender bias and retaliation to go forward while dismissing claims of defamation. Because Hughes wasn’t an employee, the judge also tossed out certain portions of her discrimination claim against Fox and Payne, including “quid pro quo sexual discrimination” and allegations of violence and unwanted sexual advances.

‘Business Solution’

Hughes claims that when she discussed the sexual assault and rape with the company’s outside lawyers, they suggested a “business solution” was preferable to a formal investigation because that would open “a can of worms.” After a business solution was rejected by Fox, “mysteriously, personal emails between Payne and Ms. Hughes that suggested a consensual relationship found their way into the public,” according to the lawsuit.

Payne was suspended by Fox last July pending an investigation. He was reinstated in September.

Hughes also won an order blocking four subpoenas to men not involved in the case seeking communications of a “sexual or romantic" nature, information about her background and reputation, and any media files "of a sexual or romantic nature" featuring her.

“Injecting this case with Hughes’ rendezvous with non-parties who have no connection to the subject matter of this litigation will only detract the parties -- and later, a jury -- from the real issues underlying Hughes’s grievance,” Pauley wrote in a separate ruling.

‘No Relevance’

“The defendants’ purported strategy is superficially appealing, but advances a boorish, reductive narrative that Hughes was predisposed to engaging in self-serving sexual relationships,” he wrote. “Hughes’ prior sexual history has no relevance to her claims against Payne, or the defense that she used Payne to advance her career at Fox."

Fox News has been buffeted by allegations of harassment. Roger Ailes was ousted from Fox in 2016 after women including former anchor Gretchen Carlson accused him of bias. Former star Bill O’Reilly was forced out last year following complaints by several women.

Pauley’s opinion spoke to the challenge confronting women who complain about mistreatment in the workplace.

"An individual who is sexually harassed by her supervisor, or someone with clout within the company, faces a Hobson’s choice -- she is either forced to endure her supervisor’s unwanted overtures, or file a complaint that will inevitably bruise his ego and jeopardize her job and career,” he wrote.

— With assistance by Gerry Smith

(Updates with Fox declining to comment.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE