MANHATTAN (CN) — Harassment claims involving the onetime hosts of the Fox Nation show “Un-PC” appeared ready for primetime Friday as a federal judge skewered lawyers for the network who want the case dismissed.
Britt McHenry, a former model and soccer player turned sports reporter, filed the complaint in December, saying George “Tyrus” Murdoch made lewd comments about her body while they co-hosted “Un-PC” from September 2018 to April 2019. McHenry quotes Murdoch, a former professional wrestler, as warning that any “negative” attitude from her would be met with dick pics.
According to the complaint, McHenry complained to the producer of their Fox Nation show “Un-PC,” and to human resources, but nothing was done.
Instead, McHenry said Murdoch was promoted to his own show, “Nuff Said,” while she was shunned from opportunities such as appearing on “Watters World,” a Fox News show that used to book her regularly.
Representing the network Friday afternoon in a teleconference, Jones Day attorney Kristina Yost emphasized that many people work on “Watters World.” Yost said McHenry lacked proof that her treatment stemmed from explicit instructions from her producer, Jennifer Rauchet.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said the connection appeared obvious.
“Rauchet is not the cleaning staff; she’s the executive producer,” said Engelmayer.
Murdoch’s lawyer Thomas Clare also took the specificity angle, digging into an instance where McHenry says she pulled her hand away from Murdoch as he tried to hold it. Clare says this is not a clear enough sign that McHenry wanted such advancements to stop, further adding she never said no.
What the judge found more relevant, however, was the lack of evidence that McHenry ever said yes.
“I’m looking for some legal authority that she actually has to say ‘no,’” said Engelmayer.
Clare said, legally speaking, McHenry has to prove that Murdoch was being hostile or pervasive — behavior they deny.
Engelmayer said it seemed rather hostile to threaten to send her pictures of his genitals.
Clare stressed to the judge that McHenry always replied in a friendly way to all of Murdoch’s messages and advances.
Engelmayer again turned to his point to that McHenry did not have to explicitly say no to reject such advances, quoting one message from Murdoch to further prove his point.
“‘You’ll need these legs to run from me,’ makes it seem like she has not consented,” said Engelmayer, referring to a Nov. 2, 2018, text from Murdoch to McHenry where he spoke adoringly about her appearance.
Clare, of Clare Locke law firm, said that message lacks context.
The judge turned to the retaliation claims where McHenry says Murdoch doctored a sexual image of her after she complained about him and circulating it around Fox News.
Clare said that does not meet the requirements of a retaliation claim.
“Is that a trick question,” asked Engelmayer, an Obama nominee. “How is that not retaliation?”
McHenry’s attorney Arick Fudali called this is typical Fox News behavior.
“The accused gets promoted and the accuser gets demoted,” said Fudali, of the Bloom Firm.
As McHenry noted in her lawsuit, her harassment occurred at a time when Fox News was forking out over $100 million to settle similar accusations that had stained several of its hosts and management, all while claiming it has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
Engelmayer wondered how retaliation claims against human resource employee Monica Mekeel hold up.
Fudali reminded him that when McHenry told Mekeel about Murdoch, Mekeel asked her what she did to provoke him, on top of the fact that she did not conduct an investigation into the claims.
“She was victim-blaming by asking her what she did to provoke him,” said Fudali. “This is retaliatory and discriminatory.”
Attorneys for all parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.