Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, the right-leaning cable outlet’s fired $45 Million Man—the reported sum paid by O’Reilly and Fox over the years to silence his alleged sexual harassment and other victims—are facing fresh litigation from one of O’Reilly’s former television producers.
A brand-new federal lawsuit filed Monday in the Southern District of New York claims O’Reilly and Fox have repeatedly defamed ex-Fox News producer Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, and violated the confidentiality terms of their 2002 settlement agreement with her, by making public statements that portrayed her and other O’Reilly accusers as liars and extortionists motivated by politics and greed.
Bernstein, who lives in California and left Fox News 15 years ago, asks for unspecified reputational, economic, emotional, punitive, and other damages. O’Reilly’s attorney, Fredric S. Newman, responded in a statement: “Bill O’Reilly 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.”
Fox News didn’t immediately comment on her complaint.
Bernstein’s lawsuit—helmed by New Jersey attorney Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer who won a $20 million settlement for fired Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her 2016 lawsuit against the late Roger Ailes—alleges that Bernstein left her job and agreed to settle her claims against O’Reilly and Fox, and never discuss them, after O’Reilly “mistreated Ms. Bernstein frequently in front of numerous witnesses.”
Citing O’Reilly’s public statement, “I never mistreated anyone,” as one of numerous denials in the press from himself and Fox that breached the strict confidential terms of settlement—in which the parties were to say nothing beyond that the claims were “settled” or “resolved”—the lawsuit alleges: “Defendant’s false statement disparaged and defamed Ms. Bernstein by portraying her as a liar.”
Bernstein’s name became public amid O’Reilly’s career-ending sexual harassment scandal in an April 1, 2017, New York Times exposé of his history of paying millions of dollars to settle harassment suits. Bernstein’s suit asserts that she strictly abided by the settlement’s confidentiality terms and was never a source for the Times, and never spoke to its reporters.
“Fox News has been aware of complaints about inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly since at least 2002, when Mr. O’Reilly stormed into the news room and screamed at a young producer, according to current and former employees, some of whom witnessed the incident,” the Times reported.
“Shortly thereafter, the woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, left the network with a payout and bound by confidentiality.”
A press release from Bernstein’s attorney claimed Monday that “she complained repeatedly about O’Reilly to HR and top Fox News executives, but they did nothing to help her or to stop O’Reilly. Ultimately… O’Reilly made it impossible for Ms. Bernstein to work at Fox.”
Noting that Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, claimed to the Times that “no one complained” about O’Reilly on the corporate sexual harassment hotline, the suit points out that such a hotline didn’t exist in 2002.
“This cynical falsehood about a non-existent hotline was made to bolster O’ Reilly’s claim that the women who received settlements must have fabricated their claims or they would have complained,” Nancy Erika Smith said in the release. “But Ms. Bernstein did complain. There is ample evidence that Fox News, with the complicity of top executives, enabled the abuse of women for many years then silenced them with non-disclosure agreements and non-disparagement clauses.”
Smith’s law partner and husband, Neil Mullin, added: “Knowing Ms. Bernstein and O’Reilly’s other victims are afraid to speak out because he and Fox forced them to sign non-disclosure agreements, O’Reilly and Fox have made false and disparaging claims. They should release all victims from their NDAs and let the truth out. It is cowardly to publicly attack these women knowing they have been subjected to contractual provisions requiring absolute silence.”