2:32pm PT by Ashley Cullins
Fox News Contributor Britt McHenry's Harassment Suit Against Co-Host Survives Dismissal
Britt McHenry's sexual harassment and retaliation suit against her former co-host Tyrus and Fox News will move forward, though a New York federal company has dismissed her claims against its parent company and other colleagues.
McHenry in December 2019 sued her co-host and the network, along with its parent company Fox Corporation and three other employees. She says Tyrus, whose legal name is George Murdoch (no relation to Rupert), made unwanted sexual advances and sent her inappropriate texts while they worked together on Un-PC.
The host says that after Murdoch learned she had a boyfriend, he retaliated against her and created a hostile work environment on set; she also alleges that not only were her complaints to executive producer Jennifer Rauchet about his behavior ignored but the EP stopped speaking to her and booking her on other shows after she complained.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer on Friday dismissed McHenry's claims against Fox Corp., along with those against Fox News vice president John Finley and human resources rep Monica Mekeel.
Engelmayer denied Murdoch's motion to dismiss in its entirety and also allowed pared down claims against Rauchet to proceed.
"Murdoch argues that these allegations fall short of alleging harassment because McHenry does not allege any actual 'sexual advances' or that he was 'propositioning Ms. McHenry or demonstrating a romantic interest in her,'" writes Engelmayer in the decision, which is posted below. "That characterization of the factual allegations against Murdoch is incorrect. His communications, as pled, are readily construed to reflect sexual advances and propositions, albeit unusually crude and clumsy ones, towards her."
The court also notes that New York City Human Rights Law "does not require that the defendant have had a romantic interest in the plaintiff, but only that he subjected her to 'unwanted gender-based conduct'" and shot down his defense that his conduct wasn't "unwanted."
"After discovery, when the full range of text messages and other communications between McHenry and Murdoch will presumably have been adduced, Murdoch will be at liberty to renew his argument that McHenry invited sexualized banter," writes Engelmayer. "But on the limited material cognizable on the pleadings, McHenry has stated claims for sexual harassment and discrimination under the NYCHRL."
The court dismissed McHenry's claim against Rauchet for aiding and abetting sexual harassment, but found her claims for aiding and abetting retaliation are adequately pleaded.
Fox Corp. is off the hook, as Englemayer found McHenry failed to adequately implicate the parent company, but her claims against Fox News will move forward. (The network didn't file its own motion to dismiss.)
Fox News on Friday issued this statement in response to the decision: “We are pleased that the court dismissed all of McHenry’s baseless claims against Fox Corporation, Monica Mekeel and John Finley, as well as the harassment claims against Jennifer Rauchet. Once the facts of the case have been presented, we are confident Fox News and Rauchet will prevail on McHenry’s remaining claims, which are equally without merit.”
McHenry's lawyer Lisa Bloom issued a lengthy statement as well. It reads, in part: "We will continue to fight for the right to a fair and respectful workplace for Britt and all workers. We are confident that we will prevail at trial in Britt’s case. Fox News may be a wealthy, powerful media company, but Britt has the truth on her side. We also thank all of the previous Fox News sexual harassment victims who had the courage to speak out and who paved the way for today’s victory."
Murdoch's attorney has not yet responded to a request for comment.