Fox News settles with former contributor over her claim that an exec sexually assaulted her

Fox News has reached a financial settlement with a former contributor who contended an executive at the company sexually assaulted her in 2015.

The company has been plagued by sexual harassment claims since ousted Fox News chief Roger Ailes was sued by former anchor Gretchen Carlson last July. But contributor Tamara Holder, who is said to have received a $2.5-million settlement, is the first to publicly make a sexual assault claim.

Holder, who ended her association with Fox News at the end of 2016, announced the settlement in a joint statement with the company released late Wednesday.

“In September 2016, Fox News contributor Tamara Holder reported an incident of sexual assault at Fox News headquarters from the prior year,” the statement said. “Immediately after Ms. Holder notified Fox News of the alleged incident, the Company promptly investigated the matter and took decisive action, for which Ms. Holder thanks the network.”

Fox News offered no further comment. People familiar with the case who were unauthorized to discuss the matter publicly confirmed details of the settlement, which was first reported in the New York Times. That report said that Holder accused Francisco Cortes, vice president in charge of Fox News Latino, of sexually assaulting her in his office at Fox News headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

The alleged incident occurred in February 2015, according to a person briefed on the details of the case. Holder reported the alleged incident Oct. 21, 2016, and Cortes was terminated from Fox News on Oct. 27.

Jay Sanchez, an attorney for Cortes, declined to comment on the matter. “I am presently considering Mr. Cortes’ legal options,” Sanchez said.

A representative for Holder was not available for comment late Wednesday. Holder’s settlement was negotiated by Los Angeles-based attorney Lisa Bloom of The Bloom Firm.

Holder was a liberal commentator on such shows as “Hannity.” A bio on Holder’s website describes her as a “television host, attorney and stand up comic.” She started her run as Fox News contributor in 2012.

Fox News has paid out a number of settlements to women who complained of being sexually harassed since Carlson’s case was first filed. That case was settled for $20 million shortly after Ailes exited the company.

Ailes, who settled out his contract for $40 million before leaving, has denied all charges of sexual harassment made against him.

But getting rid of Ailes for his alleged misconduct probably encouraged other women to come forward with allegations against Fox News.

“It does validate the claims in some way and I think that that can potentially be a motivating factor for other women who have a similar story to come forward because they think they’ll be believed,” Kate Gold, a partner in the labor employment group at Los Angeles-based Drinker Biddle & Reath, told the Los Angeles Times last year.

A former local Fox TV reporter, Lidia Curanaj, 38, alleged in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in December that she was not hired by Fox News because she refused to submit to sexual advances by Ailes when he interviewed her in 2011. She also contends that her career at Fox-owned TV station WNYW was harmed because of sexual discrimination.

Former Fox News personality Juliet Huddy contended in a letter from her lawyers sent to Fox News last August that her opportunities at the company ended in retaliation because she refused sexual advances by Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly that began in 2011. No lawsuit was filed but Huddy was paid a six-figure monetary settlement.

Earlier settlements of sexual harassment claims paid out while Ailes was running the network have drawn the scrutiny of federal prosecutors, who are looking into whether the payments should have been reported to the shareholders of its parent company, 21st Century Fox.

Fox News has said no one at the company has been subpoenaed in the investigation, which was revealed in a court case by Andrea Tantaros, another Fox News personality who is suing over sexual harassment. A judge recently sent the suit to legal arbitration.

In her suit, Tantaros described the atmosphere at Fox News as “a sex-fueled Playboy mansion like cult.”

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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An earlier version of this article said Ailes was sued by former anchor Gretchen Carlson last June.
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