Fox News faces another sexual harassment claim as Mercedes and Hyundai pull ads from 'O'Reilly Factor'

Fox News was hit with another sexual harassment claim Monday in what has become a spiraling crisis for the most-watched cable network on television.

On-air contributor Julie Roginsky filed a lawsuit against the network’s former chief executive, Roger Ailes, and its current co-president, Bill Shine, in New York State Supreme Court, saying she was denied opportunities at the channel after refusing to submit to sexual advances made by Ailes.

The new suit comes amid mounting legal challenges facing the 21st Century Fox unit, which has been struggling to put to rest claims that it created a hostile working environment for women.

Fox News was still reeling from a weekend report on $13 million in payouts for sexual harassment complaints made against prime-time star Bill O’Reilly, revelations that prompted at least two major advertisers to reevaluate their commitments to the show.

Mercedes-Benz, a major advertiser on “The O’Reilly Factor,” on Monday confirmed it is moving its spots on the top-rated prime-time program to other slots on the Fox News schedule in reaction to the story. Hyundai Motor Co. also announced it has pulled its ads from the program.

The cable channel has been shaken by sexual harassment complaints since former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes in July. The suit, which was settled for $20 million, led to the ouster of Ailes from Fox News.

Fox News recently reached a $2.5-million settlement with former contributor Tamara Holder, who accused a former vice president in charge of Fox News Latino of sexually assaulting her. Federal prosecutors are examining whether Fox News settlement payments for sexual harassment claims over the years should have been reported to the shareholders of 21st Century Fox.

Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for executive programs at the Yale School of Management, believes the continued revelations should make 21st Century Fox consider more changes to the executive team that worked alongside Ailes for years.

“They need to sweep that place out with a shovel,” Sonnenfeld said.

Fox News declined to comment on Roginsky’s suit.

Roginsky’s description of meetings that she supposedly had with Ailes are “total hogwash,” said Susan Estrich, an attorney for Ailes. “Mr. Ailes vociferously denies her allegations.” He has denied all previous sexual harassment allegations that have been lodged against him by Fox News employees.

There are no indications that further personnel changes related to the sexual harassment claims are coming.

There is also no change in the status of O’Reilly, whose contract was recently extended beyond 2017, according to a person briefed on the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. O’Reilly’s deal, which pays him $18 million annually, was set to expire later this year.

So far at least, none of the sexual harassment claims appear to have hurt the network’s business. The Nielsen ratings at Fox News surged last year and continue to hit new highs in 2017 due to strong interest in President Trump’s administration. Conservative and Republican viewers, many of whom go to Fox News because they believe it’s where Trump gets the fairest treatment, are not expected to turn away over the controversy.

“It’s not likely to have any impact,” said Joe Peyronnin, associate journalism professor at Hofstra University. “Fox News viewers are incredibly loyal.”

But the move by Mercedes-Benz to get out of O’Reilly’s top-rated prime-time program is a troubling sign. Ads on “The O’Reilly Factor” are the most expensive in cable news, going for an average of $14,000 per 30-second spot in February, according to Standard Media Index.

And the controversy shows no signs of abating. The spate of sexual harassment stories prompted Kevin Lord, the Fox News human resources director hired in the aftermath of the Ailes scandal, to send an internal memo Monday urging employees to come forward with any other complaints.

Roginsky, the latest complainant, is a Democratic political consultant paid to appear on various Fox News programs. She is scheduled to appear on the network Tuesday, according to her Twitter account.

In a statement released by Roginsky attorney Smith Mullin, her complaint describes meetings during which Ailes repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances, including stating that she should engage in sexual relationships with “older, married, conservative men” because “they may stray but they always come back because they’re loyal” and that loyalty was a “two way street.”

Roginsky also alleges that Ailes insisted on a “hello” kiss but would not get out of his chair and used it as an opportunity to look down her dress. At these meetings Ailes also made crude sexual comments about other female on-air talent, the suit alleges.

In the lawsuit, Roginsky said she rebuffed Ailes’ advances, which resulted in her losing opportunities at the network. She said she was denied promised hosting positions on the Fox News programs “The Five” and “Outnumbered.”

Roginsky also contends that Shine, the current Fox News co-president, retaliated against her for not supporting Ailes after Carlson filed her suit in July alleging that Ailes sabotaged her career after she rebuffed his sexual advances and complained of a hostile work environment.

Initially, a number of Fox News anchors, male and female, stated support for Ailes, but Roginsky would not join them because of her own experiences with the executive. She said her stance led to losing opportunities even after Ailes was gone.

The complaint depicts a bizarre reaction by Shine when Roginsky met with him to discuss her issues with Ailes at a Nov. 29, 2016, meeting also attended by Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi and Executive Vice President Suzanne Scott.

Shine is said to have asked Roginsky if she had ever seen a Showtime documentary about the Eagles. After saying she had not, Shine allegedly said the rise of the legendary rock band and other music stars from the Los Angeles scene of the 1970s band was comparable to the formation of the team that came together with Ailes to form Fox News. At a later meeting, he again compared Ailes and his cohorts to the Eagles, calling them “a gift to the nation.”

There is no sign the negative publicity for Fox News will affect its ability to attract talent.

“People engage in trade-offs at all levels in all kinds of professions,” said Debra Katz, a partner at law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP, whose focus includes sexual harassment cases. “They’ll say, ‘This is a great job and it gives me unparalleled opportunities on air and I’m going to figure out all kinds of strategies to try to protect myself from being in the direct sight of the harasser.’”

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio


UPDATES:

April 4, 7 a.m.: This article was updated to add that Hyundai has pulled its commercials from “The O’Reilly Factor.”

April 3, 6:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction from industry experts.

This article was originally published April 3 at 10:30 a.m.

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