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Fox News paid to make a sexual harassment allegation against Bill O'Reilly go away

Fox News settled a sexual harassment complaint by a former employee in September against its biggest prime time-star, Bill O’Reilly, and the division’s co-president, Jack Abernethy.

Former Fox News personality Juliet Huddy claimed in a letter from her lawyers sent last August that her opportunities at the company ended in retaliation for not submitting to sexual advances by O’Reilly that began in 2011. She also said Abernethy had made unwanted advances towards her.

No lawsuit was filed against O’Reilly or Abernethy, who was promoted to his post in August after the letter was received and was signed to a long-term contract following the settlement payment made in September. The agreement was first reported on the website Lawnewz.com.

The settlement shows the sexual harassment issue continues to shadow Fox News even after the ouster of former Chairman Roger Ailes, who was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson.

The suit prompted 21st Century Fox to launch an internal investigation into Ailes’ conduct toward Carlson and other women at Fox News, including Megyn Kelly, the popular anchor who recently announced her move to NBC.

The cable news juggernaut settled that lawsuit in September with a $20-million payment to Carlson. But other women have come forward with allegations, suggesting that sexually inappropriate behavior had been rooted in the culture of the company.

Huddy received a six-figure monetary settlement from the company in return for agreeing not to file suit, according to people familiar with the discussions but not authorized to comment. Fox News denied the claims against O’Reilly and Abernethy.

“Juliet Huddy’s letter of intent to sue contained substantial falsehoods which both men vehemently denied," said a statement from Fox News.

Attorneys for Huddy could not be reached for comment.

O’Reilly, 67, is the top-rated personality in all of cable news. His 8 p.m. Eastern time program “The O’Reilly Factor” is the tent pole for the network’s prime-time lineup. His current contract with Fox News expires this year.

Huddy first joined Fox News in 1998. She was the co-host of a Fox syndicated talk show that aired on broadcast stations in 2007 and then in 2011 went on to appear regularly on “The O’Reilly Factor” segments.

Huddy claimed that O’Reilly propositioned her on numerous occasions and tried to kiss her during a visit to his home in Manhasset, N.Y.  The letter also describes other occasions when O’Reilly allegedly repeatedly attempted to get Huddy to have sex with him.

After rebuffing O’Reilly, Huddy said she was not asked to appear on his program — which is so popular it has served as a springboard for other on-air talent at Fox. She  was eventually assigned to a predawn newscast on the local New York Fox TV station WNYW. She remained in that position until last September.

Huddy is the daughter of John Huddy, a former Fox News consultant and close longtime associate to Ailes. John Huddy was among a group of Ailes’ loyalists who were purged from Fox News shortly after the executive’s exit.

The incident with Huddy is not the first time Fox News has settled a sexual harassment charge against O’Reilly. In October 2004, O'Reilly was sued by a former associate producer, Andrea Mackris, who said he initiated phone sex and regularly used lewd language with her at work and in dinner conversations.  O’Reilly countersued and called Mackris’ allegations a “shakedown.” A settlement was reached hours before a scheduled court hearing on evidence in the case that was said to include tapes of O’Reilly’s lurid phone calls.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the first name of Jack Abernethy.

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