Fox News Network Dismissed from Discrimination Lawsuit
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled that Britt McHenry may proceed with her lawsuit against George Murdoch. McHenry’s claims include gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. However, the court dismissed Fox Corporation, which owns the Fox News Network, as a defendant.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled that Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, could not be held liable for claims that the TV host sexually harassed McHenry.
The decision allowed McHenry to proceed with claims for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against Murdoch. However, Judge Engelmayer dismissed all claims against Fox Corp., rejecting McHenry’s theory of “single employer liability,” which sought to treat the company and its subsidiary, Fox News, as a “single, integrated” enterprise.
Fox News didn’t file a motion to dismiss and is still a defendant in the case.
The Specific Allegations and Background
McHenry is an on-air reporter who made her first appearance on Fox News in August 2017. She was on the program, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and later made regular appearances on other Fox News programs. Those programs included Fox and Friends and Watters’ World. In March 2018, WTTG, a Fox News affiliate, hired McHenry. She co-hosted Like It or Not, a news show focused on current events.
In July 2018, Fox News hired McHenry to co-host Un-PC, a political entertainment talk show. Her co-host would be Murdoch, a former professional wrestler with his own show on Fox Nation, Nuff Said. McHenry alleged, that Fox Corp., as Fox News’s parent, made the ultimate decision to hire her. Fox Corp. is the parent company and sole member of Fox News, which operates Fox News Channel and Fox Nation. As such, McHenry said that Fox Corp. and Fox News are a “single employer” of McHenry. He wrote that “all significant decisions made by Fox News need to be approved by Fox Corp[.]”
Harassment by Co-Host
McHenry said that from September 2018 and April 2019, she hosted Un-PC with Murdoch. She first met Murdoch in August 2018 and began having weekly rehearsals with him in September 2018. She then became aware of his “volatile, and at times disturbing relationships with others, especially with women.” Murdoch told McHenry that his girlfriend was jealous of McHenry and had sent her (and subsequently deleted) a threatening message on Instagram. He also told McHenry that the mother of one of his children had accused him of drug abuse and threatening her and her children. This made McHenry feel that she “need[ed] to be careful” around Murdoch.
McHenry also claimed in her lawsuit that Murdoch, who goes by the stage name “Tyrus,” started to make sexually harassing comments and unwanted advances after the two met during weekly rehearsals for Un-PC in 2018.
McHenry’s complaint also states that Murdoch bombarded her with inappropriate text messages, including threats to forward photos of his genitalia. He later “became hostile and aggressive” after learning that McHenry had a boyfriend. He also berated her both on and off the air, the complaint further alleged.
McHenry maintained a “friendly relationship” with Murdoch and “at one point thought that they were becoming good friends,” she said she didn’t want to upset he co-host “out of fear of his volatile tendencies” and so as not to affect the show. McHenry said that she “politely” replied to Murdoch’s messages with “friendly but non-sexual responses.” She never sent Murdoch any sexual messages.
Fox News Co-Host’s Actions Got Worse, Says McHenry
Further, in November 2018, after a taping of Un-PC, McHenry and Murdoch had dinner together in Times Square. Murdoch “drank alcohol excessively” at dinner, and on the way back to the hotel, Murdoch grabbed McHenry’s hand and “held it in an aggressive and overtly sexualized manner.” She didn’t want to upset Murdoch but was able to take her hand away within a minute. When the two arrived at the hotel, she left Murdoch in the lobby with the doorman. She “rushed” back to her room.
After this incident, Murdoch “continued to sexually harass her by making sexually inappropriate comments to her in person and via text message,” she said.
McHenry said that she reported the alleged harassment to Watters World executive producer Jennifer Rauchet. After that, McHenry’s regular appearances on that show ended entirely.
The Judge’s Opinion
The judge penned a 48-page decision that said McHenry’s lawsuit failed to show that Fox Corp. exercised central control over Fox News’ labor relations, the most “critical” factor in the court’s analysis. McHenry’s complaint alleged that both entities shared a human relations office. But there was no evidence that Fox Corp. was involved in the day-to-day operations at the network. This was especially true of hiring and investigating complaints of misconduct.
“Accordingly, the court holds, the amended complaint fails to allege sufficient facts from which the inference reasonably arises that the Fox Corp. and Fox News were McHenry’s single employer,” Engelmayer wrote. “Although McHenry’s claims against Fox News are well pled and will move forward, the court therefore must dismiss McHenry’s claims against Fox Corp. for gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.”
Judge Engelmayer rejected Murdoch’s claims that his communications with McHenry stopped short of sexual advances and propositions. In addition to the harassment and retaliation claims, the judge said McHenry would be able to move forward with claims for aiding and abetting under New York City’s Human Rights Law.
“His communications, as pled, are readily construed to reflect sexual advances and propositions, albeit unusually crude and clumsy ones, towards her,” Judge Engelmayer wrote.
The ruling dismissed other claims against some Fox employees. But it did approve a separate claim for aiding and abetting retaliation against the Fox executive producer.
Fox News and McHenry Both Claim a Win
Fox News said in a statement that it was “pleased that the court dismissed all of McHenry’s baseless claims” against Fox Corp.
“Once the facts of the case have been presented, we are confident Fox News and Rauchet will prevail on McHenry’s remaining claims, which are equally without merit,” the network said.
Lisa Bloom, McHenry lawyer, said the decision was a “major court victory” for her client.
“We are confident that we will prevail at trial in Britt’s case. Fox News may be a wealthy, powerful media company, but Britt has the truth on her side,” Bloom said in an emailed statement.
McHenry, in her own statement, said she was “pleased with the judge’s ruling today that my case against my harasser, Fox News, and an executive producer involved will move forward.”
“For every woman who struggles for equity and professionalism, trust that our voices are heard. In a year that brought so much hardship, this is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.