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The state supreme court judge, Justice Lyle Frank, found on Monday that a settlement Luhn signed releasing Fox News from claims of discrimination and negligence — including an allegation that Ailes blackmailed her with sexually explicit videos — isn’t enforceable because she may have signed the deal under duress.
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Fox’s latest legal headache involves claims from Luhn, filed in January, that she was subjected to two decades of sexual abuse by Ailes. She sued the network, parent company 21st Century Fox and former co-president Bill Shine after the passage of the New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on certain allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2016, Ailes stepped down as network chief on the heels of several women, including anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, coming forward with claims of sexual harassment. Shine followed a year later amid accusations that he helped cover up the misconduct.
Luhn says she suffered in 2007 a mental breakdown due to the abuse. At the direction of her psychiatrist, she sent a letter to Fox detailing Ailes’ actions. They settled in 2011 for $3.15 million to be paid in $250,000 annual payments, according to court filings. Fox News argued that the deal bars the suit, saying that Luhn is looking to “recover a further payment through litigation.”
Frank sided with Luhn, however, that there’s “some question” as to whether the network pressured her into signing the agreement.
“Plaintiff’s complaint is replete with factual allegations regarding duress and her inability to report the alleged sexual abuse and misconduct while it was occurring,” states the order. “At this stage of the litigation, the duress that is alleged to have occurred prior to the negotiation of the agreement between the parties is enough for this case to not be dismissed.”
Fox News didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Luhn began working for the network in 1996 when she was hired by Ailes to work in the guest relations department. By 2007, she had become senior director of corporate and special events. She alleges Ailes regularly forced her to give him oral sex and coerced her into other sexual acts.
“To ensure her compliance and public silence, Ailes photographed and videotaped Luhn in compromising positions — blackmail material that he explicitly described as his ‘insurance policy’ — and made clear to Luhn that any attempt to speak out or stop the abuse would result in severe personal humiliation and career ruin,” states the complaint, which notes that her encounters with Ailes were set up as “booking meetings.”
Fox Corp. announced last week that Viet Dinh will exit his role as the company’s chief legal and policy officer. He will shift to a special advisor position.
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