Federal prosecutors are probing sexual harassment settlements paid out by Fox News

The U.S. attorney’s office is exploring whether Fox News settlement payments for sexual harassment claims should have been reported to the shareholders of parent company 21st Century Fox.

Fox News said in a statement issued Wednesday that it has been in discussions with the office “for months” regarding the matter, adding that no one in the company has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors.

The information first surfaced during a court hearing in which Judd Burstein, the attorney for Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros, said another one of his clients had recently been subpoenaed to discuss the matter. He did not reveal which client.

Tantaros, who until last April had been a co-host on the Fox News daytime show “Outnumbered,” is suing her employer, claiming she was removed from her on-air role in retaliation for making a sexual harassment complaint against her former boss, Roger Ailes

Burstein said in court that he was told there was an “ongoing criminal investigation” related to the sexual harassment allegations that plagued Fox News last year, according to the New York Daily News, which covered the hearing on whether Tantaros’ case should go to arbitration.

Burstein’s comment in court led Fox News to issue a statement acknowledging that it has been in touch with the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The court granted Fox News’ motion to send Andrea Tantaros’ case to arbitration, where it always belonged, and rejected her counsel Judd Burstein’s histrionics,” a Fox News representative said. “Apparently one of Mr. Burstein’s other clients has received a subpoena. Neither FOX News nor [21st Century Fox] has received a subpoena, but we have been in communication with the U.S. attorney’s office for months — we have and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities.”

Former Fox News chairman Ailes was ousted in July after sexual harassment allegations mounted against him following a lawsuit from former anchor Gretchen Carlson. The case was eventually settled with a $20-million payment that was announced by the company.

After Carlson filed her suit, an internal investigation revealed a pattern of similar behavior from Ailes, as more than 20 employees, including Fox News Channel’s biggest female star, Megyn Kelly, came forward to describe inappropriate actions by their former boss.

It was revealed that Fox News had settled other sexual harassment claims made against Ailes, including one that gave a former employee a $3.15-million payout in 2011. The employee, Laurie Luhn, had said she had been harassed by Ailes over a period of 20 years.

The payment never appeared in any financial filings or earnings for Fox News’ parent company, then known as News Corp., and was first revealed in a New York magazine story about Luhn.

Ailes has denied all sexual harassment claims made against him.

 

 

 

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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