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Thanks to a ruling on Thursday, Jennifer Eckhart will be able to proceed in a lawsuit against Fox News over its responsibility for a correspondent’s sexual misconduct.
Eckhart, a former associate producer on Fox Business Network, alleges she endured years of sexual harassment including lewd messages from Ed Henry, the Fox News’ former White House correspondent. She further alleges being coerced into a sexual relationship and that it culminated in violent rape in a hotel room. Henry was fired as a result of her charges, but the termination wasn’t enough to stop Eckhart from going to court against Fox News.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams sees enough in her complaint to allow a claim for harassment under New York State Human Rights Law, although the judge is dismissing a second claim for sex trafficking.
According to the 52-page opinion (read here), much of Henry’s alleged abuse falls outside of the statute of limitations, but there’s enough from 2018 to carry her suit under New York law (if not Title VII) for now.
In allowing a hostile workplace claim, Abrams points to allegations that it was an “open secret” that Henry was a “serial harasser,” that Fox News had received a prior complaint about him, and that the law firm of Paul, Weiss had conducted an internal investigation into sexual harassment in the wake of allegations against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
The judge rules that these allegations “suffice, at this stage, to establish that Fox News knew or should have known of Henry’s misconduct.”
Additionally, Eckhart is allowed an additional claim for retaliation in response to her termination. She may also pursue limited claims against Henry himself.
This is one of two rulings today on the sexual misconduct front against Fox News. In a second ruling, Judge Abrams rejects claims from Cathy Areu, who once regularly appeared on Fox News and made a slew of accusations against network hosts Howie Kurtz, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Abrams rules Areu is not a covered employee and thus can’t support various employment claims, although the judge declines to award sanctions demanded by the defendants.
In a statement after the ruling was released, a Fox News spokesperson commented, “While we are pleased Judge Abrams ruled in favor of our motion to dismiss the Cathy Areu case, we remain committed to defending against the baseless allegations against Fox outlined in Jennifer Eckhart’s claims. As we have previously stated, upon first learning of Ms. Eckhart’s allegations against Ed Henry, Fox News Media immediately commenced a thorough independent investigation and within six days dismissed Mr. Henry for cause. We look forward to proving through the discovery process that Fox News Media takes harassment allegations seriously and acted appropriately.”
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