Filed Monday in New York, the suit also raises harassment allegations against fellow Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Howard Kurtz.
MANHATTAN (CN) — Weeks after Fox News fired Ed Henry over a workplace sexual misconduct allegation, a woman has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the former top anchor of having violently raped her years ago.
Jennifer Eckhart, a former associate producer at Fox Business, claims the network knew about the allegation since 2017, only terminating Henry recently to get ahead of Monday’s lawsuit.
“Ms. Eckhart’s counsel also explained to Fox News, in graphic and specific detail, that Ms. Eckhart was violently raped while helpless and restrained in metal handcuffs, as Mr. Henry preformed sadistic acts on her without her consent that left her injured, bruised and battered with bloody wrists,” her 39-page complaint states.
In a statement, Eckhart shared her reasons for going public.
“My decision to speak out was not an easy one, but I refuse to let fear of retaliation, victim-shaming and further attacks intimidate me into remaining silent,” she wrote. “I am hopeful that my decision to file this action will result in positive change for women at Fox, and for all victims in the workplace, and I am honored that other women have come forward since my decision to do so.”
Cathy Areu, who appeared as a guest on the network, joined the lawsuit with sexual harassment allegations at Fox’s top personalities Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Howard Kurtz.
“It is widely documented in the public record that Fox News has not only cultivated and fostered sexual harassment and misconduct, but has consistently accepted and rewarded it,” the lawsuit begins. “Nevertheless, Fox News would have the public believe that it is a different place from the Fox News that was run by former disgraced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Unfortunately, it is actually worse.”
Areu said in a statement that she initially had been afraid to add her name to those denouncing the network’s culture of sexual misconduct.
“However, I simply could not stay silent given the tremendous harm that Mr. Henry and others at Fox News have caused for women affiliated with the company,” Areu wrote. “I chose to file this complaint because no woman should have to suffer the conduct to which I was subjected, much less the egregious conduct suffered by Ms. Eckhart.”
Fox News came out with a statement strongly denying allegations leveled by Areu, though not the ones by Eckhart.
“Based on the findings of a comprehensive independent investigation conducted by an outside law firm, including interviews with numerous eyewitnesses, we have determined that all of Cathy Areu’s claims against Fox News, including its management as well as its hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Howard Kurtz and its contributor Gianno Caldwell, are false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit,” the network claims.
Opening with a “Trigger Warning,” the complaint includes graphic text messages about sex, violence and domination.
“On Valentine’s Day, 2017, Mr. Henry wrote to Ms. Eckhart, ‘Fuck you and your safe word. You will know when I’m done,’” the lawsuit states, quoting a text message that was also screenshotted and posted in the complaint.
Though Areu does not allege sexual assault, she claims that Henry and other major Fox personalities bombarded her with unwelcome comments, advances and images. Areu asserts that Henry sent her “wildly inappropriate sexual images,” including a “closeup” photograph of a woman’s vagina being “clamped” closed by four clothespins and a picture of a vibrator faux smoking a cigarette.
For Easter, Henry allegedly sent Areu a picture of a woman’s rear end and vagina modified to include the features of a bunny rabbit.
Areu adds that Henry sent her a video titled “Fastest Interview … candidate selected in 3 seconds” — it depicted a woman exposing her vagina and being awarded a job.
“Immediately after Mr. Henry sent Ms. Areu this video, he texted her, ‘Are you avail for anchor interview,’” the complaint states.
A relatively regular face on Hannity’s show until March 8, 2018, Areu said she stopped appearing on that day after the host threw $100 on the desk and asked someone on the set to take her out on a date.
“He then began calling out to the men in the room and demanding that someone take Ms. Areu out on a date for drinks at Del Friscos,” the complaint states. “He repeatedly yelled, ‘who wants to take her on a date?’ … Thankfully, none of the staff cooperated with Mr. Hannity, even after he repeatedly chided one particular male employee for being ‘afraid to take out a beautiful woman,’” according to the lawsuit.
Areu’s attorneys include a photograph of Hannity and her client from that day in their complaint, alluding to her tense facial expression as a “fake smile.”
After appearing on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” more than a dozen times in 2017, Areu claims, the host came onto her the end of the following year.
“Following the show, Mr. Carlson, hardly making any effort to hide his intentions, began telling Ms. Areu that he would be alone in New York City that night, and specifically said that he would be staying alone in his hotel room without any wife or kids,” the complaint states.
“Without question, Mr. Carlson was probing to see whether Ms. Areu was interested in a sexual relationship,” it continues. “Ms. Areu awkwardly sidestepped Mr. Carlson’s advances and declined to spend the night at his hotel. Mr. Carlson promptly retaliated against Ms. Areu, who was featured on his show only three times in 2019 and has not appeared once in 2020.”
Areu claims to have received a similar offer to visit Kurtz’s hotel on July 9, 2019.
“I’m just at my hotel making calls,” Kurtz is quoted texting Areu on that day. “Can you come to the Muse lobby at 7:15?”
“Ms. Areu politely declined but invited Mr. Kurtz to dinner with her and a friend who was in town,” the complaint continues. “Mr. Kurtz, who plainly wanted to see Ms. Areu only if she were alone and at his hotel (i.e., for sexual reasons) declined.”
The women are represented by Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP.
“What this lawsuit reveals is that today’s Fox News is the same old Fox News,” Wigdor said in a statement. “Some of the names in leadership may have changed since Roger Ailes’ regime, but Fox News’ institutional apathy towards sexual misconduct has not. How many more women will have to be victimized before Fox News finally takes sexual harassment and workplace sexual assault seriously?”
The lawsuit alleges six counts, including sex trafficking against Fox News and Henry, gender motivated violence against Henry, and allegations of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation against all defendants. The women seek unspecified punitive damages and an injunction preventing further sexual misconduct.
Fox News denies that the network continues to have a culture of impunity.
“We take all claims of harassment, misconduct and retaliation seriously, promptly investigating them and taking immediate action as needed — in this case, the appropriate action based on our investigation is to defend vigorously against these baseless allegations,” the network wrote. “Ms. Areu and Jennifer Eckhart can pursue their claims against Ed Henry directly with him, as Fox News already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart’s claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network.”
Wigdor scoffed at the network’s invocation of its independent investigation.
“Of course, Fox News will have paid the investigator, who also happens to be a management-side employment lawyer,” he wrote. “In other words, a significant part of this ‘investigator’s’ time is spent defending companies like Fox News against allegations such as the ones brought herein. Moreover, the investigator did not even speak with either of our clients, even though both Ms. Eckhart and Ms. Areu offered to meet with him under reasonable conditions. We call on Fox News to work with our clients to retain a truly independent investigator who is transparent. The results of any such investigation should be made public for the world to see.”
Fox News denies having received allegations against Henry before Eckhart’s claim on June 25 this year.
It contends that the Wigdor firm would not let Eckhart and Areu be interviewed by its investigators without terms affording them legal protection. Fox did not respond to a request to identify its investigators.