Federal judge blocks Fox's bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit by former Trump surrogate

Joshua Blanchard/Getty ImagesScottie Nell Hughes speaks at a panel during Politicon on July 30, 2017, in Pasadena, California.
  • A federal judge blocked Fox News’ parent company’s request to toss out a lawsuit brought by Scottie Nell Hughes, a political commentator and former Trump surrogate.
  • Hughes alleges that she was raped by Fox Business Network host Charles Payne in 2013, and that when she came forward with her allegations in 2017, she was banned from appearing on Fox News.
  • Though a judge dismissed most of the allegations in Hughes’ lawsuit, he ruled that 21st Century Fox would have to defend against Hughes’ claims that Fox News punished her for coming forward by cutting off her appearances.

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday declined to grant Fox News’ parent company’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a former guest who alleges that Fox News reneged on an employment offer after she said she was raped by a Fox Business Network host in 2013.

Political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, who was also a prominent surrogate for President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, sued Fox News last September.

The lawsuit alleges gender motivated violence, gender discrimination, retaliation, and defamation, according to The New York Times. It named 21st Century Fox, Fox News, and Payne.

Hughes alleged in her lawsuit that Payne, the host of “Making Money” on Fox Business, had “pressured” his way into her hotel room in July 2013 and coerced her into having sexual intercourse, despite her protestations.

Over the next two years, Hughes claimed, she was forced to engage in a sexual relationship with Payne in exchange for career opportunities, such as increased appearances on Fox channels and the promise that Payne would help get her a valuable contributor contract. Hughes never became a paid Fox contributor.

Hughes claimed in the lawsuit that after she ended the relationship with Payne, the network blacklisted her and leaked a story to the National Enquirer that suggested Hughes was a “participant in an affair with Payne.” According to the lawsuit, Hughes said booking agents told her the reason for her decline in TV appearances was that “she had an affair with someone at Fox,” The Times reported.

“In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne,” Hughes told The New York Times last year. “In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.”

Payne was suspended in July 2017 amid an internal investigation but was brought back on the air in September.

In response to Hughes’ lawsuit, 21st Century Fox said Hughes could not make claims of discrimination or retaliation by the network because she was an unpaid guest and not an employee.

US District Court Judge William Pauley III agreed in part.

Pauley sided with Fox in its argument that travel and hair and makeup costs Hughes said she incurred while appearing on the network did not rise to the status of an employee, and that her allegations of promises of being hired by the network were too vague.

“If such allegations were deemed a financial benefit for purposes of determining employee status, virtually every commentator on a national television network could satisfy the remuneration requirement,” Pauley wrote. “In any event, an incidental benefit of appearing on a nationally televised program is widespread publicity and name recognition, and may not be considered under the financial benefit analysis.”

However, Pauley ruled that 21st Century Fox must defend against Hughes’ failure-to-hire and retaliation claims based on her status as a job applicant.

Although Fox contends that Hughes never formally applied for a job, Pauley wrote that it was reasonable to argue that Fox “openly entertained Hughes’ expressions of interest in a full-time contributorship, and induced her into believing that she had a realistic chance of obtaining the position, despite never formally posting it.”

He added: “Fox used the lure of a full-time contributorship as a carrot and a stick to secure Hughes’ continued appearances.”

Though Pauley sided with Hughes in her claim that Bill Shine, then the president of Fox News, retaliated against Hughes after she came forward with her allegations against Payne by blaming her for the episode, and that the network subsequently torpedoed her chances at getting a full time position as a contributor.

Though Pauley ultimately decided that many aspect of Hughes’ lawsuit were invalid, she will be able to move forward with her claim that she would have been hired by Fox News had she not come forward with her allegations.

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