Former Fox News producer who settled mistreatment claim with Bill O'Reilly sues for defamation

Former Fox News producer Rachel Witlieb Bernstein is suing Bill O'Reilly and Fox News for defamation and breach of contract, alleging they violated a settlement she reached with the fired cable anchor.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Bernstein said O’Reilly and Fox News broke their nondisclosure agreement in remarks to the New York Times. The April 1 story recounted how the anchor and network had paid $13 million in settlements over the years to her and other women who had complained that O’Reilly had abused or sexually harassed them during their employment.

Bernstein complained in 2002 that she was mistreated by O’Reilly when she worked for the network, and ultimately reached a settlement agreement with the network. Her story was among those included in the New York Times report, although her suit said she was not the source of the information.

Her financial settlement with Fox News required both sides not to disparage the other and only say the matter had been resolved. Unlike the other settlements made by O’Reilly and Fox News, Bernstein’s complaint did not involve sexual harassment.

Bernstein alleges that O’Reilly had defended the payouts in the New York Times and other publications by portraying her as a “liar and politically motivated extortionist.”

In the New York Times story, O’Reilly said he paid Bernstein and other women who complained because he’s “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity.” In another widely published statement he said, “the worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel.”

O’Reilly was fired on April 19 from Fox News after a 20-year run at the cable network. He was the network’s top rated personality for most of that time.

The suit also said that Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox falsely said in the story that there had never been any harassment complaints made against O’Reilly on a company hot line.

Bernstein said there was no hot line in existence at the time of her employment.

Bernstein alleges in her suit that she complained repeatedly about O'Reilly’s mistreatment of her to the company’s human resources department and top Fox News executives, but nothing was done. O’Reilly screamed at Bernstein in front of other employees, according to the New York Times.

"This cynical falsehood about a non-existent hot line was made to bolster O'Reilly's claim that the women who received settlements must have fabricated their claims or they would have complained," said Bernstein’s attorney Nancy Erika Smith, whose Montclair, N.J., law firm Smith Mullin represented Gretchen Carlson in her suit against former Fox chief executive Roger Ailes.

Fox News did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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