(CN) – Political pundit Scottie Nell Hughes added to mounting claims of a culture of sexual harassment at Fox News, accusing the Rupert Murdoch-owned cable network channel of blacklisting her from contributing to the network after she accused Fox anchor Charles Payne of sexual assault and rape.
In a federal complaint filed in New York on Monday, Hughes says that Payne, with whom she had appeared as a panelist on the network, raped at in her hotel room in July 2013. Hughes says that she did not initially report the incident because she was too “shocked and ashamed to speak out.” Payne regularly invited her to appear on his show afterward, she says.
She broke her silence by telling the network about the incident this past June, and Fox then suspended Payne as reports of an internal investigation emerged. After that investigation concluded, however, Fox allowed Payne to return to his show “Making Money” on Fox Business earlier this month.
Payne denied the allegations in a July 7 statement issued through his lawyer.
“Charles Payne vehemently denies the allegations,” attorney Jonathan Halpern said. “He will defend himself vigorously against these claims and will hold those responsible to account.”
Hughes says Fox’s public relations “machine launched into high gear” when she contacted the network’s outside legal team, leaking her name to the National Enquirer and releasing a statement from Payne that suggested his sexual relationship with Hughes was consensual.
“Fox’s belief that its spin about an affair would somehow negate Ms. Hughes’s sexual assault claims speaks volumes about Fox’s ignorance about sexual violence against women,” the 29-page complaint states.
During Payne’s brief suspension, personal emails between the host and commentator surfaced that played into the narrative that the two were having an affair. Hughes says in her complaint that Payne coerced her “into a sexual relationship in exchange for career opportunities and benefits,” and used his “position of power to pressure Ms. Hughes into submission.”
“While there are admittedly many emails that Fox and Payne will no doubt use to suggest that a consensual relationship existed after the July 2013 sexual violence, describing what happened here as simply an ‘affair’ or ‘consensual relationship’ is misleading and wrong,” the complaint states.
Hughes appeared as a contributor on Fox News and Fox Business between 2012 and 2016, but says the network stopped booking her after she came forward.
She calls Fox’s investigation of Payne a “sham.”
“However painful it is to expose the fact that she is a rape victim, and knowing that the Fox PR machine will follow through with its threats to reveal more personal emails, Ms. Hughes cannot allow Fox to victimize her a second time by trampling on her reputation and ruining her career in order to promote the actions of a male on-air talent,” the complaint states.
Fox is denying the allegations, taking aim at the political commentator’s attorney, Doug Wigdor.
“The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful,” a spokesman for the network said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend this. It’s worth noting that Doug is Ms. Hughes’ third representative in the last six months to raise some variation of these claims which concern events from four years ago, since it apparently took some time to find someone willing to file this bogus case.”
In the past year, dozens of women employed by Fox News have claimed the network fostered a culture of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by male personalities. Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson accused the late Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Earlier this year, Fox’s most prominent host Bill O’Reilly was forced to resign after revelations about millions of dollars in settlements paid to women who came forward with claims that he acted inappropriately or harassed them.
Hughes wants punitive damages, alleging discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting, gender-motivated violence, and defamation. Her complaint is pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.