According to the suit, Ms. Hughes was “shocked and ashamed” and did not immediately report the episode. She said that over the next two years she was forced to engage in a sexual relationship with Mr. Payne. In exchange, she said, she received career opportunities, including increased appearances on Fox News and Fox Business and the promise that Mr. Payne would help her land a contributor contract, a job that can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year. Ms. Hughes never became a paid contributor at either channel.
Ms. Hughes, a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business from 2013 through 2016, asserted that after she ended the relationship with Mr. Payne, the network blacklisted her. After she reported her allegations against him, she said, the network leaked a story to the news media about a romantic affair between Ms. Hughes and Mr. Payne.
“In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne,” Ms. Hughes said in an interview, referring to the allegations in her lawsuit. “In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.”
The lawsuit, alleging gender motivated violence, gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation, was filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It named 21st Century Fox, Fox News and Mr. Payne.
The suit also names Dianne Brandi, the executive vice president of legal and business affairs at Fox News, and Irena Briganti, the network’s executive vice president of corporate communications. In the suit, Ms. Hughes says that Ms. Brandi and Ms. Briganti “knowingly and maliciously aided and abetted the unlawful employment practices, discrimination and retaliation” against her. The lawsuit claims that Ms. Brandi and Ms. Briganti “issued a false narrative to The National Enquirer that Ms. Hughes was a participant in an affair with Payne” and “revealed Ms. Hughes’s identity to The National Enquirer.”
Fox News said the lawsuit was “bogus” and “downright shameful.”
“We will vigorously defend this,” the network said in a statement. Fox News also said that the case was a “publicity stunt of a lawsuit” by Ms. Hughes’s lawyer, Douglas H. Wigdor.
Mr. Wigdor, who is representing several current and former Fox News employees in harassment and discrimination cases against the network, said Fox was victim-blaming. “Fox cannot spin its way out of this crisis – especially when only Fox is to blame for what happened,” he said in a statement.
The charges in Ms. Hughes’s lawsuit echo accusations made by several other current and former Fox News employees after the sexual harassment scandal at the network burst into public view last year, exposing a culture where women said they had faced harassment and feared reporting inappropriate behavior. The initial scandal led to the resignation of the network’s chairman, Roger Ailes, and subsequent allegations prompted the network to force out its most popular figure, Bill O’Reilly, among other personalities. Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, has attempted to clean up its workplace and move past the crisis, yet new allegations and litigation have continued to roil the network in recent months.
Ms. Hughes, 37, has been a familiar face on cable news in recent years. A vocal Trump supporter, she worked as a paid contributor at CNN during the 2016 presidential election. Her contract with CNN ended this past January.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Hughes experienced a sudden decline in bookings across cable news networks in early 2017 and was told by a booking agent that Fox had blacklisted her because she “had an affair with someone at Fox.” As a result, Ms. Hughes said, she was taken out of consideration for positions in the Trump administration.
In June, Ms. Hughes instructed her manager to disclose the details of her allegations to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the law firm investigating sexual harassment issues at Fox News.
Shortly after, the National Enquirer published an article in which Mr. Payne acknowledged and apologized for an extramarital “romantic affair.” While the National Enquirer article did not reveal Ms. Hughes’s identity, an article from HuffPost included her name and several other news outlets covered the story.