(CN) – A Fox executive accused of sexually harassing a contributor seeks $48 million, claiming the network used him as a “scapegoat” to demonstrate its intent to tackle the systemic harassment of women who work at the network.
In late February, 21st Century Fox reached a $2.5 million settlement with former Fox News contributor Tamara Holder, who claimed former Fox News Latino vice president Francisco Cortes tried to force her to give him oral sex.
In a 54-page complaint filed Tuesday in New York, Cortes asserts that his relationship with Ms. Holder was consensual, and that he served as a “useful scapegoat (Patsy) for Fox to help it demonstrate that it aggressively handles sexual harassment complaints.”
Two other unknown persons allegedly also signed the settlement with Ms. Holder, but these persons “were, unlike Mr. Cortes, not Latino, and not financially insignificant to Fox,” so they remain anonymous.
Cortes believed that by signing the settlement agreement, he would protect his career and reputation – because otherwise, he says he would have fought the allegations, which he vehemently denies.
But in March, Holder and Fox both made a joint statement to The New York Times, which published an article naming Cortes as her abuser. It does not mention the other two signatories to the agreement.
“Mr. Cortes has served as a useful ‘scapegoat’ to Tamara Holder, who has since the March 8th New York Times article gone to extreme lengths (attacking her attorneys and agents, alleging misconduct by them and/or a betrayal of victims of sexual harassment) to cynically paint herself as the ‘poster child’ for bravery against sexual harassment, although she has protected the identity, thus, sheltering their reputations from the taint of a sexual harassment scandal, of not one, but two people other than Mr. Cortes who have signed the Tamara Holder and Unknown Persons agreement regarding her allegations of sexual harassment,” Cortes says in the complaint.
By coming out aggressively against workplace sexual harassment, Fox sought to eliminate concerns in the United Kingdom regarding its proposed acquisition of the pay-TV group Sky.
Cortes claims Fox violated its contractual obligations to him under the settlement agreement by publicly accusing him of sexual harassment, thereby irreparably harming him and his family.
Holder is not named as a defendant in the complaint, but the two unnamed signatories are in addition to 21st Century Fox.
Cortes seeks $48 million in punitive damages on claims of breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, conspiracy, defamation, libel and slander.
He is represented by J.A. Sanchez in New York.
A Fox representative said “the allegations in this lawsuit are frivolous and without merit.”
Three months ago, 21st Century Fox fired Bill O’Reilly, host of the network’s most popular show, after The New York Times revealed that sexual-harassment complaints against O’Reilly had cost his network $13 million in settlements.
Former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes died earlier this year following his ouster by the network on the heels of allegations by Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and at least 18 other female Fox employees that the network is a working embodiment of top-down sexism.
Fox News, particularly the “Fox & Friends” morning news show, is frequently cited and retweeted by President Donald Trump, while he dismisses other news outlets as “fake news.”