Labor & Employment Law Daily Fox News again sued for alleged sexual harassment of female employees
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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Fox News again sued for alleged sexual harassment of female employees

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The sexually charged workplace environment has not changed since Roger Ailes’ resignation over similar allegations, according to the complaint.

Fox News Network and former correspondent Ed Henry, along with anchors Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Howard Kurtz, are facing a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in federal court by two former Fox News employees who allege, in some instances, violent, disturbing sexual harassment that includes rape allegations.

The top of the complaint reads in red-letter, all-caps, “TRIGGER WARING: THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS HIGHLY GRAPHIC INFORMATION OF A SEXUAL NATURE, INCLUDING SEXUAL ASSAULT.”

Nothing has changed since Roger Ailes. “Fox News continues to protect and reward perpetrators of sexual harassment and refuses to take accountability for putting such persons in positions of power from which they can subject women to sexual misconduct, sexual assault and, in the case of [a former associate producer], rape,” according to the complaint. “Some of the names in leadership may have changed since Roger Ailes’ regime, but Fox News’ institutional apathy towards sexual misconduct has not.”

The complaint is referring to the resignation of Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes following Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s state court complaint alleging that the long-time Fox News executive repeatedly harassed his on-air personality, both in public and private—including demanding sex in order to improve her standing at the network—and that she was terminated for complaining of the mistreatment (after first seeing her pay reduced and her on-air time curtailed). Other allegations surfaced after Carlson’s lawsuit, and the network has faced a media nightmare.

Former associate producer “preyed upon.” As alleged in the most recent complaint, Ed Henry purportedly “preyed upon, manipulated, and groomed” a female associate producer half his age beginning when she was 24 years old “by exerting his abuse of power over her and her career.” He not only leveraged this imbalance of power for control over the plaintiff, but “asked her to be his ‘sex slave’ and his ‘little whore,’ and threatened punishment and retaliation if [she] did not comply with his sexual demands,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint details Henry’s alleged misconduct, including persistent romantic overtures despite her rejections, demanding that she remove her underwear at work and bring it to him, forcing the associate producer to perform oral sex on him, and violently raping her while she was handcuffed against her will. Purportedly, Henry took photos of the handcuffed woman before the assault in what she characterized as an opportunity to later blackmail her so that she would never expose his misconduct.

Misconduct reported but no response until legal action. Allegedly, when the associate producer reported that she was experiencing a toxic environment at Fox News to the VP of HR and her supervisor, they never followed up with her, nor investigated her complaints, nor tried to remediate the misconduct. Four months later, she was instead informed that she was being terminated after seven years of employment, according to the complaint.

Fox News put on notice of legal action. Prior to the effective date of her termination in June 2020, the associate producer allegedly put Fox News on notice that she was retaining legal counsel to bring claims about Henry’s misconduct, and she laid out the misconduct for the company’s legal counsel, as well as its outside investigators.

On July 1, 2020, Fox News terminated Henry, taking credit for acting appropriately and “grossly mischaracterize[ing]” his behavior “by whitewashing it as merely ‘sexual misconduct,’ rather than violent sexual assault,” according to the complaint. The plaintiff says the company did not terminate Henry for his misconduct, but rather because it realized it was on the precipice of a “public relations nightmare.”

Fox News already knew. Allegedly, Fox News had been on notice of Henry’s sexual misconduct towards other women at Fox at least as early as 2017, the plaintiff contends. Notably, during the Roger Ailes investigation conducted by a law firm, multiple women had complained that Henry had subjected them to sexual harassment and/or unwanted sexual messages, the plaintiff alleges. But the company not only supported Henry, it also promoted him to a co-anchor position. “As a result, he held a position of power from which he felt emboldened to violently rape [the associate producer],” according to the complaint.

The only way to get ahead. The other plaintiff, a woman who frequently appeared on Fox News programs and aspired to become a full-time employee, alleges that Fox News “strung her along as a candidate for a full-time position, all while she was being sexually harassed and retaliated against. In reality, [she] was never going to get a full-time position unless and until she engaged in sexual activity with one or more male anchors.”

A decades-tenured cameraman purportedly explained to her that it “is well known that the way for women to get ahead at Fox News is to sleep with the male anchors and executives.” The complaint details how the woman’s career at Fox News was “derailed because she refused to do so.” It describes purported sexual harassment by Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Howard Kurtz, Henry, and others.

Among other things, the complaint details a series “wildly inappropriate sexual images and messages” that Henry sent to this plaintiff, including a video of entitled, “Fastest Interview … candidate selected in 3 seconds.” “In the video, someone purportedly interviewing for a position exposes her vagina, after which the interviewer indicates that she got the job,” according to the complaint.

Claims. The six-count complaint raises claims of sex trafficking under federal law; hostile work environment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation under New York law and New York City law; and gender-motivated violence under the New York City Administrative Code.

The case, Eckhart v. Fox News Network, LLC, was filed in the Southern District of New York; the case is No. 1:20-cv-05593-RA.

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