MANHATTAN (CN) – A political pundit who claims to have been raped by Fox Business anchor Charles Payne persuaded a federal judge Tuesday to advance her claims against Payne and the network.
Scottie Nell Hughes brought the lawsuit in New York last year, saying that Fox turned its “public-relations machine” on her after she informed lawyers for the network that Payne had coerced her into a sexual relationship in exchange for career opportunities.
Advancing six counts of discrimination and retaliation against Payne and Fox on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said the record contains ample evidence that Hughes was blackballed after being treated as a shoe-in for a full-time contributor position.
“Fox used the lure of a full-time contributorship as a carrot and a stick to secure Hughes’ continued appearances,” the ruling states.
Representatives for Fox News declined to comment on the ruling or separate order Tuesday in which Pauley quashed subpoenas that the network served against four former paramours of Hughes — none of whom are parties to the complaint or ever worked for or contributed to Fox.
Hughes says the subpoenas were intended to shame and harass her, while Fox said that proof of Hughes’ “sexual immorality would negate her defamation claims.”
The subpoenas sought sexual or romantic communications and media files sent between Hughes and each of the men.
Pauley rejected them outright.
“Hughes’ prior sexual history has no relevance to her claims against Payne, or the defense that she used Payne to advance her career at Fox,” the ruling states.
Aside from what he called their superficial appeal, Pauley said the subpoenas would serve only to “advance a boorish, reductive narrative that Hughes was predisposed to engaging in self-serving sexual relationships.”
The judge also noted Fox’s subpoenas “will only detract the parties—and later, a jury— from the real issues underlying Hughes’ grievance.”
“Injecting this case with Hughes’ rendezvous with non-parties who have no connection to the subject matter of this litigation will only detract the parties — and later, a jury — from the real issues underlying Hughes’ grievance,” the ruling states.
Hughes’ attorney Douglas Wigdor declined to comment on the rulings.
Hughes contends that her abuse began in July 2013 after she and Payne had both appeared as guests on another Fox program. Hughes says Payne raped her in her hotel room and then used his connections to ensure that Hughes received regular invitations to appear as a panelist on Fox programs.
Once Payne was given his own nightly show, “Making Money,” the following year, Hughes appeared on roughly 80 percent of the episodes, plus weekly appearances on other Fox programs, through June 2015. That month, she says, Hughes ended her sexual relationship with Payne. In contrast to her earlier gigs, Hughes made just five appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor” over the next 10 months, according to the complaint.
She says Fox stopped booking her altogether in March 2016 because Payne’s wife was complaining about her to Bill Shine, who was then co-president of Fox. By 2017, according to the complaint, Fox had hired the law firm Paul Weiss to steer it through what had become a barrage of sexual-harassment allegations.
When Hughes confided in the attorneys confidentially about her history with Payne, however, she says officials at Fox leaked the details of her case to the media.
Hughes did not name Shine and Paul Weiss as defendants to her suit, and Judge Pauley found Tuesday that she has no case against Fox’s in-house counsel Dianne Brandi and spokeswoman Irena Briganti.
The ruling calls it “unclear whether Brandi or Briganti ever interacted with Hughes during her time at Fox, nor is there any indication that they actually participated in the decision to terminate her candidacy and blacklist her.”
Pauley also tossed claims for defamation and libel, as well as a count accusing Payne of gender-motivated violence.
“Hughes fails to plead gender-specific animus,” the ruling states. “Even if this court credited Hughes’ contention that Payne’s sexual harassment and quid pro quo discrimination was motivated by her gender, the complaint is devoid of facts demonstrating that Payne’s actions were also motivated, in part, by ‘feelings of animosity and malevolent ill will’ against women. In this regard, while the alleged rape in 2013, if true, is despicable and undoubtedly constitutes ‘discriminat[ion] on the basis of sex,’ such an act was not a ‘hate crime.’ Hughes offers no specific allegations that Payne harbored or expressed any animosity toward women.”
The motion by Fox to dismiss focused on the unpaid nature of Hughes’ panel appearances.
As noted in the complaint, Hughes was never paid for her more than 240 appearances on Fox News and Fox Business. The network only covered the expenses of transportation to and from its Manhattan headquarters, as well as the costs of Hughes’ hair and make-up for appearances.