For the past couple of years, 21st Century Fox has been haunted by hostile workplace and gender and racial discrimination claims in the wake of reports alleging misbehavior by former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. The company has now reached a major settlement that could resolve nearly all — if not all — pending lawsuits on this front. Fox’s potential settlement is a bit unusual because the deal was negotiated with Douglas Wigdor, an attorney who represents plaintiffs across many different lawsuits. Not all of his clients were ready to drop their claims.
Among Wigdor’s cases against Fox is a discrimination suit in federal court from local TV reporter Lidia Curanaj, who accuses the company of fostering a “misogynistic culture” and alleges that she didn’t get a job at Fox News when she wouldn’t submit sexually to Ailes. The attorney is also representing more than a dozen women in New York state court on claims that Fox fosters a hostile environment for dark-skinned employees. In addition, there’s a lawsuit by political pundit Scottie Hughes, who says she was raped by a Fox Business host and that the company retaliated against her for complaining by blacklisting her.
There’s more, including a defamation suit by Rod Wheeler, who investigated the death of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, plus retaliation and discrimination claims from Fox News radio correspondents Jessica Golloher and Kathleen Lee.
Wigdor has become, as Bloomberg once put it, the Trump-loving lawyer who won’t stop suing Fox News.
But that could all be coming to an end.
Fox has reached a deal with Wigdor’s firm, which would technically be 19 individual settlements; the deal was signed today. But the overall financial package, arrived after the parties engaged in extensive mediation, is said to be far less than the $60 million that Wigdor reportedly demanded and Fox rejected last summer. Not all plaintiffs got money. One received nothing while others received little, but others received substantial compensation including contract buyouts. A source with knowledge of the agreement said it’s approximately 20 cases for closer to $10 million.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox News confirmed the deal, commenting, “The parties have reached mutual agreements that resolve various cases involving Fox News employees.”
Not everyone is happy with what’s occurring.
On Monday, Wigdor’s firm brought motions to withdraw as counsel in two cases — the Hughes lawsuit as well as the Wheeler case. In separate declarations, Wigdor attorneys cited “an irrevocable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship” and offered to provide more information to the judge privately.
Hughes, in particular, is unhappy.
Although a judge substantially trimmed her claims, she was allowed to move forward in her case last month. That’s important because she will now be entitled to discovery — and she has her sights on deposing former top Fox News executive Bill Shine as well as former host Bill O’Reilly and current host Sean Hannity. From the television personalities, Hughes demands to know what O’Reilly and Hannity were told by management about why she could no longer be on their shows.
Hughes blames Wigdor for attempting to strong-arm her into a settlement. She claims her attorneys are pushing her into discussions with the mediator in an attempt to advance this goal. During one discussion, according to documents reviewed, the mediator mentioned that if Hughes testified in her case about post-traumatic stress disorder from the alleged rape, it could have a negative impact for her. The mediator nodded to women with a PTSD diagnosis who lost their kids in custody fights. Hughes interpreted this as a less than veiled threat about what would happen if she chose to move forward with her lawsuit. Hughes was also told by her lawyer that the judge’s recent decision had weakened her case by removing many of her claims, and that if she was unwilling to accept reality, it would make representing her more difficult.
According to a source familiar with Hughes’ thinking, she now believes Wigdor is dumping her in favor of ambitions on the settlement front.
Wigdor responds, “Our professional obligations prevent us from commenting about the specific reasons for seeking withdrawal from our representation of Ms. Hughes; however, the reported contention is unequivocally false.”
As for the Wheeler case, Wigdor didn’t respond to a request for comment. At a hearing in late April, the judge expressed skepticism about a defamation claim that didn’t allege any false statement attributed to Wheeler. The judge, though, has yet to rule, and given the months spent litigating Fox’s dismissal motion, the withdrawal of counsel at this moment — just as the settlement is reached and especially on the very same day as the withdrawal motion in the Hughes case — is notable.