Former Fox News Latino executive accused of sexual harassment sues 21st Century Fox for making him a ‘scapegoat’

Francisco Cortes Fox
Francisco Cortes Fox News

A former Fox News Latino executive filed a lawsuit against 21st Century Fox on Tuesday, claiming the organisation violated the terms of a $US2.5 million settlement awarded to a former Fox News employee who claims she was a victim of sexual harassment.

Francisco Cortes, the former vice president of Fox News Latino, filed a suit in the US Southern District of New York alleging 21st Century Fox violated a settlement, the terms of which specified it would not disparage Cortes regarding sexual harassment allegations made by Tamara Holder, a former Fox News contractor.

Last year, Holder notified Fox News that Cortes attempted to coerce her into performing oral sex on him in his office in 2015, The New York Times has reported.

According to the Times, Cortes was terminated in October. The newspaper said Fox News reached a settlement with Holder in February, which, Cortes’ complaint alleges, barred Holder and Fox from talking about the case in a way that would disparage Cortes.

According to court documents, two weeks after the $US2.5 million settlement was reached, Fox issued a joint statement with Holder regarding the settlement, which Cortes claims violated the terms of the agreement and destroyed his reputation.

According to Tuesday’s filing, Cortes denies the sexual harassment allegations and said he would provide proof that his relationship with Holder was consensual by releasing “emails, text messages, with photos, and other supporting documentation.” The complaint said Cortes could not previously deny the allegations against him because the terms of the settlement barred him from speaking about it.

The complaint said an agreement Cortes signed requires him to “remain silent against the allegations, which he vehemently denies.”

The Times detailed the allegations against Cortes in its story. Holder said Cortes invited her into his office at Fox, shut the door, poured them both tequila shots, and then tried to force her to perform oral sex on him as he held the door shut. Holder said she then fled the room.

The Times reported that the settlement with Cortes included the joint public statement that Fox News released with Holder. The newspaper also reported that Holder was permitted to send emails to the Times discussing the allegations, but that beyond that, she cannot discuss her claims, the settlement, or anything related to Fox News.

Over the past year, Fox News has been roiled by high-profile instances of sexual harassment that led to the departures of Roger Ailes, the late CEO of Fox News, and star anchor Bill O’Reilly. Cortes’ filing alleged that 21st Century Fox was hoping to make a public example out of him in hopes that UK regulators would see cultural changes at the company and approve 21st Century Fox’s attempt to acquire Sky News.

“Mr. Cortes has, thus, served as a useful ‘scapegoat’ (‘Patsy’) for FOX to help it demonstrate that it aggressively handles sexual harassment complaints, as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to permit the Murdochs to eliminate concerns in the U.K. regarding their $US15.2 Billion acquisition of Sky in the U.K.,” the complaint said.

In her statement to the Times, Holder said she appreciated the quick action Fox took against Cortes.

“Yes, I was sexually assaulted,” she told the newspaper in March. “Immediately after I told the company where I worked about the incident, it promptly investigated the matter and took action, which I appreciate.”

The complaint also suggests Holder made allegations about two other people at Fox, but that they were not named and their identities were protected. 

The complaint stated that Holder “has protected the identity, thus, sheltering their reputations from the taint of a sexual harassment scandal, of not one, but two people other than Mr. Cortes” who signed the settlement “regarding her allegations of sexual harassment.”

“These two UNKNOWN PERSONS, it must be assumed, were, unlike Mr. Cortes, not Latino, not financially insignificant to FOX, and not without some utility to Tamara Holder’s career if she would only agree to continue to protect them and shield their reputations from the damage necessarily incurred by accusations of sexual harassment,” the complaint stated.

The complaint also speculated that at least one of the unknown persons might have “had a great deal of power and influence at FOX, as well as a group of very sophisticated attorneys” who were able to protect their identity.

Cortes’ complaint also heavily implied that Cortes might have been named — while the identities of the two unknown persons were hidden — based on race.

“The decision to ‘scapegoat’ Mr. Cortes, was based, in part, on a willingness of FOX executives and the Murdochs to subscribe to a stereotype of the Hispanic man, and, in part, on their belief that anyone who was informed of the incident … would be willing to subscribe to this stereotype of the Hispanic man,” the complaint stated.

The complaint alleged that Fox made veiled threats to withhold Cortes’ severance payments if he went through with this lawsuit.

Fox News closed Fox News Latino in December, folding the vertical back into the main Fox News site. Cortes told Politico that the site was initially the brainchild of former CEO Roger Ailes, to whom Cortes said he was close.

Cortes’ complaint also alleged that he was in talks to join three other networks, which were dropped when the Times story was published.

Jay Sanchez, the lawyer representing Cortes, declined to expand on the complaint in a statement to Business Insider, saying: “My client and I prefer to fight this out in an actual court of law rather than in the court of public opinion.”

Cortes is requesting tens of millions of dollars in damages.

21st Century Fox and Fox News did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. A law firm representing 21st Century Fox also did not respond to comment requests.

Read the full complaint below:

Francisco Cortes complaint by Pamela Engel on Scribd