(CN) – A federal judge dismissed a former Fox News executive’s $48 million defamation lawsuit that claimed the network used him as a scapegoat to demonstrate its intent to tackle the systemic harassment of women who work at Fox.
Early last year, 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.
Cortes maintains his relationship with Holder was consensual, but says he agreed to sign the settlement to protect his career and reputation.
But a month later, Holder and Fox made a joint statement to The New York Times about the incident that was published in an article reporting on sexual-harassment allegations against then-Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
The statement does not name Cortes – although his $48 million lawsuit filed last summer alleges that it reveals his identity – but says Holder reported an incident of sexual assault at Fox and the network promptly took action.
Cortes’ complaint claims he served as a “useful scapegoat (Patsy) for Fox to help it demonstrate that it aggressively handles sexual harassment complaints,” and says he would have defended himself against the accusations had he known they would ever become public. (Parentheses in original.)
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet of the Southern District of New York was not convinced and dismissed Cortes’ case on Tuesday.
The lawsuit “alleges a conspiracy theory…worthy of its own Martin Scorsese thriller,” Sweet said.
“The basis for defendants' alleged breach is the joint statement in the NYT article, and that statement cannot plausibly have violated the Holder settlement agreement's non-disparagement clause because it cannot plausibly be read to disparage plaintiff,” the 28-page opinion states.
Cortes acknowledged in his opposition papers to Fox’s motion to dismiss that the network’s statement to The New York Times did not mention him by name.
“Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that the joint statement put out by defendants was a defamatory statement ‘concerning’ him,” Sweet wrote. “There is no reference or description of plaintiff in the joint statement. It is implausible that an ‘average reader would understand the statement’ to be a reference to plaintiff.”
Sweet also found that Cortes cannot show that Fox intentionally misrepresented any material facts to induce him into signing the settlement agreement.
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