Andrea Tantaros calls Fox News a 'sex-fueled Playboy Mansion-like cult' in lawsuit

Legal problems for Roger Ailes and Fox News mounted this week as another female employee has gone to court over sexual harassment claims.

In a 37-page lawsuit, cable news host Andrea Tantaros alleges that she was removed from her on-air role in retaliation for making a sexual harassment complaint against Ailes, her former boss, and that Fox News executives covered up his actions.

“Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” Tantaros states in her lawsuit filed Monday in New York Supreme Court.

 

Tantaros, a former co-host of the Fox News daytime program “Outnumbered,” has been off the air since April 25. The network has said her removal was due to her not allowing management to vet her book “Tied Up In Knots” before promoting it on the air. Most Fox News hosts and anchors are contractually obligated to have their published works approved by the company.

But Tantaros, who remains on the payroll at Fox News, alleges she is being benched for complaining about being sexually harassed by Ailes. Her complaints were ignored, her suit said, and other top executives -- including new Fox News co-President Bill Shine -- were involved in covering them up. Tantaros is seeking about $30 million in damages.

Ailes has denied all of the sexual harassment allegations against him.

Fox News is not commenting on Tantaros’ lawsuit. But one person briefed on the matter who is not authorized to comment publicly said Fox News will vigorously defend itself in the matter — a far different stance than it took in response to the lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. That suit prompted 21st Century Fox executives to call for an investigation.

When Tantaros described her encounters with Ailes in published accounts this month, Shine and company attorney Dianne Brandi denied that she ever made the complaints.

Her lawsuit is the latest allegation of misconduct against Ailes. The once-powerful cable TV news executive resigned July 21, two weeks after Carlson sued him, alleging he sabotaged her career after she rebuffed his sexual advances and complained about a hostile work environment. 

An internal investigation turned up many other allegations of harassment involving Ailes. More than 25 former and current Fox News employees reported incidents in the internal investigation, but none of Ailes’ top deputies were implicated. Shine, a 20-year veteran of Fox News, was promoted to co-president after Ailes’ departure.

 

But Tantaros’ suit alleges Shine and others were well aware of Ailes’ actions. The suit names Fox News, Ailes, Shine, Brandi, communications chief Irena Briganti and longtime programming executive Suzanne Scott, who was also recently promoted.

The complaint “is not just about Ailes; it also gives life to the saying that ‘the fish stinks from the head,’” the lawsuit states. “For Ailes did not act alone. He may have been the primary culprit, but his actions were condoned by his most senior lieutenants, who engaged in a concerted effort to silence Tantaros by threats, humiliation, and retaliation.”

Tantaros said her tenure at Fox News “devolved into a sexual harassment nightmare” in the summer of 2014, when Ailes allegedly made inappropriate comments to her. Ailes asked her to twirl around so he could “get a good look” at Tantaros, the suit said. On another occasion he said, “come over here so I can give you a hug.” Another time he allegedly told her “I bet you look good in a bikini.”

Ailes also allegedly peppered Tantaros with questions about the sex lives of other Fox News personalities, including her co-hosts on “The Five,” where she appeared from 2011 to 2014 before joining the panel on “Outnumbered” — a move that she described as a demotion.

As a co-host of “Outnumbered,” Tantaros describes being subjected to inappropriate remarks by Fox News correspondent John Roberts and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown when they appeared as guests on the program. She also said she received an invitation from Fox News prime-time star Bill O’Reilly to “stay with him on Long Island” where it would be “very private.” She said O’Reilly told her on more than one occasion that he could see that Tantaros had a “wild side.”

Tantaros also accused the Fox News communications department of failing to make her accessible to media outlets and feeding unflattering stories and tweets about her. Tantaros alleges that Shine told her to “let it go” when she complained about Ailes’ behavior and the department’s actions.

"I have no knowledge of what she's referring to. None," Brown told WFXT-TV, a Fox TV affiliate in Boston. "I think she’s trying to add credibility to her complaint against the higher-ups, showing a pattern supposedly of behavior there."

Tantaros said Fox News is using the issues regarding her book — which she claims she submitted for approval in April — as an excuse for pulling her off the air in retaliation for her complaints to Shine and Brandi made this year.

Shine’s name was also raised by former Fox News Washington staffer Laurie Luhn, who said she was given a $3.15-million severance package after she complained of harassment at the company. Luhn said she had a sexual relationship with Ailes during her tenure at the network, and accused Shine of facilitating their liaisons. Shine has said he was unaware of any personal relationship between Ailes and Luhn.

Shine survived the 21st Century Fox internal investigation that followed Carlson’s lawsuit and has become the right hand to the company’s executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, who is overseeing Fox News.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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