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Bill O’Reilly, who lost his primetime Fox News show after it was revealed that many women had been paid tens of millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims, has scored a legal victory. On Thursday, a New York federal judge ruled that Laurie Dhue must first go to arbitration to pursue claims that O’Reilly defamed her.
Dhue, a former Fox News anchor herself, asserts that her reputation was hurt in the aftermath of stories about O’Reilly’s sexual misconduct. O’Reilly attempted to defend himself in the media by saying he was “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want [him] to pay them to avoid negative publicity.” He also spoke of “unfounded claims” and how he was “very confident the truth will come out.”
A flurry of lawsuits followed. O’Reilly is also being sued by Andrea Mackris, Rebecca Diamond and Rachel Witlieb Bernstein over these comments.
In June, O’Reilly submitted a motion to compel arbitration in Dhue’s lawsuit.
What made this no slam dunk was that O’Reilly wasn’t a signatory in Dhue’s settlement agreement with Fox. Instead, the television personality argued he was a beneficiary and that the claims in her lawsuit were “intertwined” with the subject matter of the settlement agreement.
U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts rejects Dhue’s counterargument that O’Reilly can’t compel arbitration because he is not a party to the contract and this defamation action wasn’t a “similar dispute.”
“This Court HOLDS that [Dhue], a signatory to the Settlement Agreement, is estopped from avoiding arbitration with [O’Reilly], a non-signatory, because [Fox and Dhue] and [O’Reilly] ‘have a sufficient relationship to each other and to the rights created under the agreement,” states the order.
This doesn’t quite mean that her defamation claims will ultimately be determined in arbitration. Instead, Batts concludes that the “threshold question” of whether Dhue agreed to arbitrate the issue must be decided by an arbitrator.
Later in the decision, the judge notes that the settlement agreement itself does not exclude non-signatories from availing themselves of the arbitration clause. The judge also nods to how the “broad terms” of the settlement agreement released O’Reilly from liability from claims related to alleged sexual harassment, gender discrimination, tortious interference, blacklisting and retaliation.
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