9:31am PT by Eriq Gardner
Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Sued for Disparaging Female Accuser
Fox News and Bill O'Reilly have been hit with a lawsuit over press statements made in the wake of a New York Times story revealing the former television star had paid $13 million to five women to settle sexual harassment claims.
The story and others would cause O'Reilly to lose his job, but not before he commented, "Just like other prominent and controversial people, I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity."
O'Reilly would make other comments including to The Hollywood Reporter, which is cited in today's lawsuit. "I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children," O'Reilly said in April. "The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel."
Now, Rachel Bernstein is taking objection to these comments with a complaint that cites the non-disparagement clause of the settlement agreement she had with O'Reilly in 2002, when she was a junior producer at Fox News. Currently working at Conan O'Brien's production company, Bernstein is suing for breach of contract and defamation. She's represented by the same attorneys at Smith Mullin who represented Gretchen Carlson in the retaliation lawsuit against Fox News.
The complaint, filed in New York federal court, also addresses statements from Fox News this past April. When the New York Times published its story about O'Reilly, the cable news network's parent company responded, "Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O'Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O'Reilly."
Bernstein says the statement was false.
"In fact," states the complaint, "Ms. Bernstein repeatedly complained to Fox Human Resources, Bill Shine, and other Fox executives, about Mr. O'Reilly's mistreatment and both defendant Fox News Network LLC and O'Reilly knew that before making the statement above. The statement by Fox News is deliberately misleading and in breach of Fox's agreement not to disparage Ms. Bernstein. There was no hotline at Fox during plaintiff's employment. The statement by Fox News also violated the Confidentiality Clause in the Agreement."
The complaint adds that O'Reilly is far from the "target" he portrays himself as, and instead, "he is a serial abuser and Ms. Bernstein's complaints about him were far from extortionate," with further reference to the report that O'Reilly also paid $32 million to settle harassment claims from Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl.
Bernstein is also suing the defendants for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as targeting O'Reilly for allegedly tortiously interfering with Bernstein's settlement agreement with Fox News. She's demanding an unspecified amount of damages related to her reputation, economic position and stress she endured. Punitive damages is also being sought.
O'Reilly's attorney responds that his client "has never mentioned the plaintiff's name publicly in any context. And as the original New York Times story makes clear, this was absolutely not a case of sexual harassment. So today's lawsuit has absolutely no merit, and Mr. O'Reilly will respond aggressively in court."