Fox News, coming off a year of scandal related to a series of sexual harassment claims, was hit with another lawsuit Monday by a political commentator who claimed she was raped and assaulted by a network employee.
In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal court, political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes said she was raped by veteran Fox Business anchor Charles Payne — and then suffered retaliation from the network when she reported it.
Hughes’ lawsuit accused the network of “victim-shaming” and leaking false information to the press that suggested Hughes and Payne had a consensual affair when she first reported the alleged attacks.
According to court papers, Hughes, 37, met Payne, anchor of “Making Money,” in 2013 and was invited to appear on his show numerous times.
In July 2013, while in New York for a Fox program, Payne “pressured his way into Ms. Hughes’s hotel room for a ‘private discussion.’”
It was then that Payne raped her, the lawsuit alleged.
Hughes was “shocked and ashamed,” the suit said, and didn’t report it.
Payne then used his “sexually motivated favoritism” to get Hughes invited onto other shows and frequently had her appear on “Making Money,” the lawsuit said.
Hughes was coerced into a sexual relationship with Payne in exchange for career opportunities and benefits,” the court papers said.
The relationship lasted from 2013 into 2016, the suit said.
Payne allegedly made it clear to Hughes that her appearances on Fox shows would dry up if she ended the relationship, the lawsuit said.
When she did try to break it off, Payne “became enraged and physically violent,” the suit said.
Hughes’ lawsuit claims that when she finally did sever ties with Payne in 2016, her bookings at Fox dwindled over a 10-month period and then dried up completely.
In early 2017, her booking agent was told by a colleague that Hughes “had an affair with someone at Fox and we were told not to book her,” the suit said.
According to Hughes’ lawsuit, in July her manager reached out to Paul Weiss, a law firm hired to perform an internal investigation of Fox News amid an avalanche of sexual harassment scandals that reached all the way up to former network chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
The lawyers offered a “business solution” to the allegations of rape and retaliations and promised to reach out to Fox network execs about getting Hughes off the blacklist, the lawsuit alleged.
A few hours later, Hughes’ manager got a phone call from a National Enquirer reporter asking about the romantic affair gone bad between his client and Payne — a false story leaked by the network to discredit Hughes, her lawsuit argued.
According to the lawsuit, Hughes’ name was leaked by Irena Briganti, an executive vice president of corporate communications at Fox.
Briganti also leaked a prepared statement and apology from Payne, which painted the relationship as “a consensual affair,” the lawsuit said.
The network suspended Payne in July while it conducted an internal probe of Hughes’ claims.
Earlier this month, he was restored to his on-air position when the network finished its probe.
Fox News responded to the lawsuit late Monday and took aim at Hughes’ credibility and that of her attorney.
“The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful. We will vigorously defend this,” the network said.
“It’s worth noting that Doug is Ms. Hughes’ third representative in the last six months to raise some variation of these claims which concern events from four years ago, since it apparently took some time to find someone willing to file this bogus case,” the statement finished.
Payne, who is married, issued a statement through his lawyer.
“My client Charles Payne vehemently denies any wrongdoing and will defend himself vigorously against this baseless complaint,” said attorney Jonathan Halpern. “We are confident that when the evidence is presented in this case, Mr. Payne will be fully vindicated and these outrageous accusations against him will be confirmed as completely false.”
Hughes’ lawsuit, alleging gender motivated violence, gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation, also names Briganti and Dianne Brandi, the executive vice president of legal and business affairs at Fox News, as defendants, along with the network and parent corporations.
The women “knowingly and maliciously aided and abetted the unlawful employment practices, discrimination and retaliation,” Hughes’ lawsuit alleged.
“My complaint speaks for itself. What is most important to me is that justice will prevent other women from going through the nightmare I’m now living,” Hughes said in a statement.
The claims in her suit are similar to allegations made by numerous current and former Fox News women employees, who said they endured sexual harassment and feared the repercussions of speaking up.
That scandal brought about the resignation of Ailes as well as popular host Bill O’Reilly, and several other high-ranking employees.
Her attorney Wigdor also responded to Fox’s statement with one of his own warning the network it wouldn’t be able to “spin its way” out of the lawsuit.
“Fox Executives at the highest levels leaked Ms. Hughes’s name to a tabloid. The ‘representatives’ that Fox refers to in its statement include her agent and a lawyer not admitted in NY, so the suggestion that Ms. Hughes was shopping for a lawyer is yet another desperate attempt at avoiding the real issues and blaming the victim. Sadly, nothing has changed at Fox,” he said.