Fox Reporter Says Her Hostile Workplace Lawsuit Led to More Retaliation

An amended complaint by Lidia Curanaj addresses Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment settlements, too.
Courtesy of YouTube/Fox 5 News/ Gramercy Protocol
Lidia Curanaj

Lidia Curanaj, a reporter at a Fox affiliate station in New York, has filed an amended complaint against 21st Century Fox, taking her lawsuit alleging a "misogynistic culture" at the company to new places, including the Bill O'Reilly controversy and the way her superiors allegedly retaliated against her for suing over a hostile workplace last December. In new court papers filed Monday, Curanaj suggests that the station's managing editor began tracking her every movement and that announcements were made over the intercom system where she worked in an effort to paint her as a poor employee.

As Fox continues to deal with allegations of "top-down harassment" from many women even after settling with Gretchen Carlson and cutting ties with Roger Ailes, Curanaj's lawsuit presents the question of whether the troubles will extend beyond Fox News and impact the local affiliates owned by 21st Century Fox.

In her original complaint, Curanaj (real name: Lidija Ujkic) attempted to leverage the unfolding scandal at Fox's cable news division by discussing her own experience with former Fox News head Ailes. She claimed being repeatedly denied a full-time position because of her age and being rejected for a job at Fox News because Roger Ailes realized she would be "unwilling to submit to him, sexually." But she didn't directly work for Ailes. Nor is he a co-defendant in this case. As a freelancer, Curanaj claimed the station's news director said she was "not attractive enough" to be an anchor and complains how her hours were cut upon becoming pregnant.

Fox reacted to the lawsuit two ways in court.

First, it argued that Curanaj wasn't an employee of 21st Century Fox and that she shouldn't be allowed to sue the parent company of Fox Television Stations.

Second, it moved to strike Curanaj's "irrelevant, prejudicial and time-barred allegations" about Ailes. 

Curanaj's lawyers have decided instead to double down.

The amended complaint mentions the Ailes "stories of more than 25 women," the federal law enforcement investigation and even the $13 million in reported payments by O'Reilly to settle claims of sexual harassment.

"Disturbingly, the allegations against O’Reilly are substantially similar to the claims against Ailes," states the complaint. "Upon information and belief, Ailes knew of O’Reilly’s unlawful conduct but failed to discipline O’Reilly, as Ailes was busy engaging in the exact same behavior. Additionally, as with settlements involving Ailes, the same key executives would have been involved in the execution and disbursement of settlements involving O’Reilly. For example, such individuals include Mark Kranz, Dianne Brandi and Denise Collins."

It's not clear how this is relevant to her own case, and the lawsuit lacks specifics on how Fox's upper brass new about her situation, but nevertheless, the amended complaint does add some noteworthy new elements about the alleged retaliation she faced after suing. Her lawyers write she was subjected to "unprecedented micromanagement and performance counseling on a nearly daily basis" as a result of filing her first complaint.

For instance, in the days after filing, she says, her personal cellphone stopped working, so she got permission to go to a Verizon store to have it repaired. But when she did, she was admonished by Peter Facini, the station's managing editor, she says.

"Of course, Ms. Curanaj was well within her rights to stop briefly into a store as would any employee on a break be entitled to enter a store," states the amended complaint. "Moreover, her performance was exemplary that day as Ms. Curanaj was able to complete her story a full half hour before it was slotted to air."

She also says she was chastised for making a minor error in a story that was lauded by its subjects and that the overall intent was clear: "create a paper trail in an effort to justify an impending discriminatory and retaliatory termination."

Curanaj says that her lawsuit was "announced" to the Fox5 team in multiple meetings with a design to "alienate and ostracize her," plus more.

"For example, Facini continued to monitor Ms. Curanaj’s time in an unprecedented manner," write her lawyers at Wigdor, discussing what allegedly happened on Dec. 26 when she was in a bathroom and frantic queries of her whereabouts came from Facini.

"Concerned that something important had happened, Ms. Curanaj called him back from a stall in the bathroom," continues the complaint. "Thereafter, she ran to the newsroom to meet Facini to learn that the purported 'emergency' was not even breaking news and another Fox5 employee was already on the scene. Additionally, announcements were made over the intercom system paging Ms. Curanaj while she was in the bathroom. Given that Ms. Curanaj was in the final trimester of her pregnancy, she should not have had to to worry each time she needed to use the bathroom that Facini would be attempting to accuse her of poor performance or absence from work."

Curanaj also says she learned the station's news director made comments how she "is a liar looking for a payout," how "anyone who backs her up will go down too because she has no case" and "she's never going to get another job in TV again."

Fox hasn't responded yet to a request for comment, but the amended complaint includes word that management denied making disparaging comments about the case and told employees that they are to continue working with her as if the lawsuit had not been filed. 

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