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Fox loses bid to stop bias lawsuit by Fox News ex-panelist who says Charles Payne raped her

Fox Business Network host Charles Payne at the Fox News studios in New York in 2015.
(John Lamparski / Getty Images)

A federal judge has ordered 21st Century Fox Inc. to face a lawsuit by a former Fox News panelist who claimed that Fox Business Network host Charles Payne raped her and that the company ignored her complaint.

The ruling Tuesday by U.S. District Judge William Pauley in New York is a blow to Fox as the company confronts a series of sexual harassment allegations. The judge narrowed the suit by Scottie Nell Hughes but said Hughes had alleged enough facts for some of her claims to move forward. Pauley didn’t rule on the merits while denying Fox’s bid to dismiss the case in its entirely.

Fox News previously called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt” that has no merit and “is downright shameful.” Payne, the host of “Making Money” on Fox Business, has called the complaint baseless.

Hughes says she became a victim of a public-relations smear campaign after telling an outside law firm — which last June was investigating sexual harassment at the network — that Payne had raped her in 2013.

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According to her complaint, her name was leaked to the National Enquirer and the tabloid was given a “self-serving statement,” allegedly drafted by Payne, that expressed his sorrow at having engaged in an affair with Hughes.

The lawsuit names Fox, Fox News, Payne and two other individuals associated with the company.

Fox News and a lawyer for Payne didn’t immediately return requests for comment. Doug Wigdor, a lawyer for Hughes, declined to comment. In his opinion, Pauley allowed claims of gender bias and retaliation to go forward while dismissing claims of defamation.

Hughes also won an order blocking four subpoenas to men who formerly had affairs with her. The subpoenas sought communications of a “sexual or romantic” nature, information about Hughes’ background and reputation, and any media files “of a sexual or romantic nature” featuring her.

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“Injecting this case with Hughes’ rendezvous with non-parties who have no connection to the subject matter of this litigation will only detract the parties — and later, a jury — from the real issues underlying Hughes’ grievance,” Pauley wrote in a separate ruling.

“The defendants’ purported strategy is superficially appealing, but advances a boorish, reductive narrative that Hughes was predisposed to engaging in self-serving sexual relationships,” he wrote. “Hughes’ prior sexual history has no relevance to her claims against Payne, or the defense that she used Payne to advance her career at Fox.”

Fox News has been buffeted by allegations of sexual harassment. Founder Roger Ailes was ousted in 2016 after women including former anchor Gretchen Carlson made accusations against him. Former star Bill O’Reilly was forced out last year after complaints by several women.


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