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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Fox, Bill O’Reilly Accused in Court of Defamation

A woman who reached a confidential settlement with Fox News over her treatment by ousted host Bill O’Reilly claims in a federal complaint that O’Reilly and the network disparaged her in statements to the media.

MANHATTAN (CN) – A woman who reached a confidential settlement with Fox News over her treatment by ousted host Bill O’Reilly claims in a federal complaint that O’Reilly and the network disparaged her in statements to the media.

Represented by Smith Mullin PC — the same law firm that represented Gretchen Carlson last summer in successful sexual harassment action against Roger Ailes, the late former chair of Fox News — Rachel Witlieb Bernstein filed her complaint on Monday with a federal judge in Manhattan.

The case comes eight months after Bernstein’s 2002 settlement was mentioned in an April 1 report by The New York Times about O’Reilly’s continued success at Fox despite $13 million in payouts that the network had given five of his accusers over the years.

Fox ultimately forced O’Reilly out before the month was up but not before the embattled host disputed that he was ever the subject of harassment complaints.

“In my more than 20 years at the Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” O’Reilly told the Times for its April 1 article.

Fox News gave the Times a similar statement: “No current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.”

Bernstein, who maintains that she was not the source of the information reported by the Times, says both statements are false and violated the nondisparagement clause of their agreement.

“In fact, Ms. Bernstein repeatedly complained to Fox Human Resources … about Mr. O’Reilly’s mistreatment and both defendant Fox News Network LLC and O’Reilly knew that before making the statements above,” the complaint states.

Bernstein also says “there was no hotline at Fox during plaintiff’s employment.”

How much Fox paid Bernstein specifically is not mentioned in the Times article or her lawsuit, just that it was “far less” than the amount Fox paid to settle other women’s sexual-harassment claims against O’Reilly.

The Times reported that Bernstein left the network after O’Reilly stormed into the newsroom and screamed at her in front of other employees.

Bernstein says O’Reilly disparaged her again in violation of their settlement with the statement he published online after his firing.

In that statement, O’Reilly called himself a “target for those who would harm me and my employer.”

Bernstein says O’Reilly portrayed her “as a liar” again this past September by telling the Hollywood Reporter “no one was mistreated on my watch.”

“O’Reilly presented himself as a victim of a vast conspiracy and not a serial abuser and coward hiding behind the nondisclosure agreements he forced his victims to sign,” the complaint states.

The complaint quotes several more statements by O’Reilly, such as his claim in October that the allegations against him are “politically and financially motivated.” He is even promoting a new book.

“These false statements portrayed plaintiff in a false light and disparaged her character, in fact calling her a liar and an extortionist.”

“In fact, Mr. O’Reilly is the liar,” the complaint continues.

She says there are many witnesses to her mistreatment by O’Reilly, which cost her her job.

“She was not politically or financially motivate to raise the claims of abuse,” the complaint continues.

Bernstein says O’Reilly’s podcast and his website are rife with false portrayals of himself as a victim.  She seeks punitive damages, alleging breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference and bad faith.

The complaint says that Witlieb never violated any provision of her 2002 settlement and both O’Reilly and Fox News are jointly liable for the breach of contract.

Representatives for O’Reilly did not immediately respond to request for comment Monday afternoon.

O’Reilly, who resides in Long Island, filed a court summons in October against former New Jersey assemblyman Michael Panter.

The post by Panter mentioned dating a woman who settled a lawsuit with O’Reilly,” Panter wrote. "I hear O'Reilly spinning his falsehoods almost daily. This week he again said he did nothing wrong, while suggesting he's been persecuted and had very few complaints ‘to Human Resources’ during his decades at Fox. Bill should be aware that not everyone is bound by a non-disclosure ... I am not.”

O’Reilly’s attorney Frederic Newman called the post “contrived, false and defamatory.”

President Donald Trump defended O’Reilly in an April 5 interview with The New York Times.

“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” said Trump, who also has been accused of serial sexual misconduct against women. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

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Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Media

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