Two women who reached sexual harassment settlements with Bill O’Reilly joined a defamation lawsuit against Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News on Wednesday, asserting that statements that he and the network made depicted them as liars, political operatives and extortionists.
The women are Andrea Mackris, a former producer on Mr. O’Reilly’s show on Fox News who sued him for sexual harassment in 2004, and Rebecca Gomez Diamond, a former host on Fox Business Network who reached a settlement with Mr. O’Reilly in 2011 after coming forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. Both women had recorded conversations with Mr. O’Reilly, and he paid both settlements, according to people briefed on the matter.
They joined a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, a former Fox News employee who reached a settlement with Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly in July 2002 after she repeatedly complained about his behavior to the network’s human resources department and other executives. Ms. Bernstein is also suing for breach of contract. Her allegations did not include sexual harassment.
The New York Times reported on the settlements in April as part of an investigation that exposed how the network had stood by Mr. O’Reilly as he faced a series of harassment allegations. There now are six publicly known harassment settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly that total about $45 million. All the women involved in the settlements are bound by nondisclosure agreements. Ms. Mackris, Ms. Diamond and Ms. Bernstein said in the lawsuit that they were not the source of the information about the settlements published by The Times.
Since the public exposure of those agreements and the allegations against him, Mr. O’Reilly has said that the claims that led to his ouster from Fox News in April have no merit, that he “never mistreated anyone,” that he was the victim of a “political and financial hit job,” that his fame had made him a target and that he “put to rest any controversies to spare” his children.
“In fact,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, “he mistreated both Ms. Mackris and Ms. Diamond and he is well aware of the irrefutable evidence of his harassment, abuse and mistreatment which caused him to settle their legal claims.”
“They are tired of being smeared with lies by a bully who thinks that his victims are afraid to answer to them,” Nancy Erika Smith, a lawyer for the women, said in a statement. “They are standing up for the truth, joining the many voices of brave women who are no longer tolerating abuse or being silenced.”
Representatives for Mr. O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, could not immediately be reached for comment. In an earlier statement following the original filing of Ms. Bernstein’s lawsuit, Fredric S. Newman, a lawyer for Mr. O’Reilly, said that Mr.O’Reilly had never mentioned Ms. Bernstein’s name publicly in any context.
“As the original New York Times story makes clear, this was absolutely not a case of sexual harassment,” Mr. Newman said at the time, adding that the lawsuit had “absolutely no merit, and Mr. O’Reilly will respond aggressively in court.”
In the lawsuit, the women said that Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, disparaged and defamed them during a recent interview with Sky News in London. During the interview, Mr. Murdoch characterized sexual harassment issues at Fox News as being isolated to Roger Ailes, the founding chairman of the network, and said “there are really bad cases and people should be moved aside. There are other things which probably amount to a bit of flirting.”
“Murdoch knew that the plaintiffs had valid claims and significant evidence when he disparaged and defamed them,” the women said in the lawsuit, adding that their claims “were never ‘nonsense’ or ‘flirting’ or because Fox News is ‘conservative.’ Murdoch, as C.E.O. of Fox News, speaks on behalf of defendant Fox News as an authorized spokesperson and binds defendant Fox News with his statements.”
The women took issue with the company’s statement that “no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly” The lawsuit said that Ms. Mackris and Ms. Diamond raised complaints through their lawyers but that no investigation was conducted in either case.
“In fact, defendant Fox News chose to get rid of women who complained about sexual harassment and insist on their silence while continuing to employ defendant O’Reilly, allowing him to continue his harassment and abuse of female Fox employees,” the lawsuit states.
The women are seeking a release from the confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses of the settlements, an apology from Mr. O’Reilly, Fox News and Mr. Murdoch, an admission that they raised valid claims and had solid evidence, as well as compensation provided by the law for reputational damages, emotional harm and attorneys fees, Ms. Smith said
Ms. Smith previously represented the former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her July 2016 suit that claimed she was harassed by the network’s founding chairman, Roger Ailes. Ms. Smith has been a vocal critic of the use of nondisclosure agreements and nondisparagement clauses, stating that they create a culture of silence around harassment and allow misconduct to continue.
“At this time in our culture women are tired of being told to shut up about abuse at the hands of men,” she said.