Fox suspends business news host Charles Payne amid sexual harassment allegations

Fox Business Network host Charles Payne has been suspended while 21st Century Fox investigates sexual harassment allegations made against him, the company confirmed Thursday night.

Payne’s suspension was announced by Fox Business Network following his program “Making Money,” and shortly after the Los Angeles Times first reported the investigation.

“We take issues of this nature extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy for any professional misconduct,” a Fox Business Network representative said in a statement. “This matter is being thoroughly investigated and we are taking all of the appropriate steps to reach a resolution in a timely manner.”

Payne, who hosts “Making Money” on the network and appears on various other programs, has acknowledged what he described as a three-year “romantic relationship” with a married female political analyst who frequently appeared on Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel from 2013 to 2016. Payne admitted to the extramarital affair in a statement to the National Enquirer published Wednesday that included an apology to his wife, children and friends.

That relationship is now being reviewed after the woman contacted Fox’s law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison last month to report her allegations of sexual misconduct. The woman, who worked for CNN last year, had a representative tell the firm she believed she was eventually blackballed from the network after she ended the affair in 2015 and tried to report Payne to top executives at Fox News, according to two sources familiar with her complaint.

The Los Angeles Times is not naming the woman because she alleges that she was coerced into a sexual relationship with Payne under threat of reprisals.

Neal Korval, an attorney representing Payne, said the anchor “categorically denies” having committed any acts of sexual harassment against the woman. Korval said Payne will respond to the woman’s allegations in court if a complaint is served.

The woman was never an employee of Fox News, but appeared as a guest across numerous Fox News and Fox Business Network programs with the hope of becoming a paid contributor. She has told her lawyer, who is preparing a legal complaint against Fox News and Payne, that she stayed in the relationship because she believed he would help her chances of landing a position at the network, according to the sources.

Instead, the woman is alleging, after she ended the affair her appearances were drastically reduced, the sources say.

Payne, 56, has worked at Fox Business Network since it launched in 2006. Payne, who is also a Wall Street financial analyst, recently signed a new contract with the business channel, which has seen significant ratings growth over the last two years.

According to the sources, the woman told her lawyer that from March 2015 to March 2016 she made several unsuccessful attempts to discuss her situation with Payne with former Fox News executive Bill Shine, who was head of programming at the time. Shine left Fox News on May 1.

The allegations are the latest to hit 21st Century Fox, which has been plagued by sexual harassment charges across several units over the last year. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit last year against the network's former chief executive, Roger Ailes. Since then, several other women have come forward with allegations against Ailes and other significant figures.

Tamara Holder, a former Fox News contributor, received a settlement from the company after alleging she was sexually assaulted by an executive, Francisco Cortes, who oversaw the network’s Spanish language operation. Holder never reported the incident to legal authorities, but Cortes was fired.

The network’s star anchor, Bill O’Reilly, was pushed out in April after reports that he and Fox had paid out millions to settle harassment claims going back to 2004. Los Angeles radio personality Wendy Walsh alleged that O’Reilly promised her a position on his highly rated show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” if she would have sex with him.

On Monday, Jamie Horowitz, a top executive at Fox Sports, was fired amid harassment complaints.

Payne’s suspension came on the one-year anniversary of Carlson’s lawsuit. On Thursday, she tweeted: “A year ago tdy I jumped off a cliff w/o knowing what was below. Thx to all who supported me & even 2 those who didn't. #BeFierce #SpeakUp.”

Debra Katz, an employment attorney in Washington who specializes in sexual harassment cases, said the continued claims against 21st Century Fox show that the company still has work to do despite numerous steps to improve its work environment since the departure of Ailes.

“It seems the atmosphere was so poisoned with sexual harassment that if you lift any rock you’re going to be able to find more,” Katz said.

Katz added that she believes the company will continue to aggressively address the matter — especially because 21st Century Fox wants to complete its acquisition of European pay TV giant Sky. The company is still waiting for British regulators to approve the $15-billion transaction.

“It’s going to be a long road, but as long as Fox wants the Sky deal to go through they are going to make every effort to deal with these issues head on,” Katz said.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

ALSO

White House threatened Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski with a National Enquirer story, the two allege

AMC tests an ad-free channel as the TV industry struggles to please viewers who hate commercials

CBS will air a documentary series from its streaming news channel CBSN

Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz will join Fox News as a contributor


UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This article was updated to include a tweet from Gretchen Carlson on the one-year anniversary of her lawsuit against Roger Ailes.

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect Charles Payne’s suspension.

This article was originally published at 2:40 p.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°