21st Century Fox, Fox News and its former star host Bill O’Reilly earned a win in court yesterday, as a New York federal judge tossed out a sexual harassment lawsuit that had been brought by former Fox News producer Rachel Witlieb Bernstein back in December.
The Hollywood Reporter was first to report the news.
Bernstein was one of six women who had previously settled sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly.
Bernstein’s lawsuit stated that The New York Times story from April 2017 detailing the numerous harassment settlements by O’Reilly, revealed that Fox News entered a settlement agreement with Bernstein in 2002. The lawsuit also noted that Bernstein was not the source for the NYT story, which eventually led to O’Reilly’s departure from the network. According to Bernstein’s filing, O’Reilly and Fox violated the 2002 settlement agreement by defaming Bernstein in the press, portraying her as “a liar and politically motivated extortionist.”
Bernstein was represented by Nancy Erika Smith and Neil Mullin, who represented Gretchen Carlson in her 2016 lawsuit against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes. In the lawsuit, they have claimed Bernstein “has suffered and will continue to suffer harm to her reputation, severe emotional distress, physical sickness, and loss of income.”
U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts addressed the defendants’ motion to dismiss yesterday, writing:
“Plaintiff’s allegations of special damages and defamation per se are wholly insufficient,” writes the judge. “Plaintiff alleges that she has suffered damages to her reputation, severe emotional distress, physical sickness, special damages, and loss of income as a ‘direct and proximate result’ of O’Reilly’s allegedly defamatory statements. However, she neither explains how her losses flowed from the alleged defamation nor alleges any facts establishing what, if any, emotional and physical harms and reputational damage she specifically suffered.”
Judge Batts also ruled that Fox’s public statement didn’t necessarily portray Berstein as a “liar,” and that 21CF didn’t necessarily deny her allegiations against O’Reilly as being unfounded. Judge Batts further held that O’Reilly public statements couldn’t be attributed to Fox News and 21CF because they had already parted ways with him upon reports about these settlements.
Batts dismisses the contract claims on similar grounds, writing that Bernstein has not alleged facts showing damage and that O’Reilly wasn’t a party to the contract. Also, because 21st Century Fox only addressed allegations against O’Reilly generally, the judge adds that Fox couldn’t have “defamed” or “disparaged” her within the meaning of the non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses.
Bernstein can file another complaint, but the judge will only allow her to re-plead her case against O’Reilly, not Fox News or 21st Century Fox.
Here’s the full 21-page ruling from Tuesday: