Former producer sues Fox News, Bill O'Reilly for defamation
O'Reilly's lawyer said Rachel Witlieb Bernstein's lawsuit “has absolutely no merit."
Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, a former associate producer at Fox News, is suing her former employer and its former star, Bill O'Reilly, for comments they made following a blockbuster New York Times story outlining millions of dollars that were paid to silence women who accused O'Reilly of harassment.
Bernstein, who is one of six women known to have been paid a settlement regarding accusations about O'Reilly, claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the former host is a "liar" for repeatedly claiming there is no truth to the allegations against him. The New York Times was first to report about the lawsuit.
"He mistreated Ms. Bernstein," the lawsuit states. "She was forced out of her job at Fox News and paid a settlement because of his mistreatment."
Frederic S. Newman, an attorney for O'Reilly, said in a statement that the lawsuit "has absolutely no merit" and that the former Fox News star "will respond aggressively in court."
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
At issue are public statements O'Reilly has made following his ouster at Fox News. The New York Times has reported that at least six former Fox News personalities and employees have been paid $45 million to settle claims of sexual and verbal assault. In October, the Times reported that former Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl was paid $32 million to settle sexual harassment allegations, a payment the network made before re-signing the star in January to a new four-year contract. O'Reilly was fired in April after advertisers began to boycott his popular Fox News show.
O'Reilly has insisted he did nothing wrong. He has said he only agreed to the settlements to protect his children and has painted the allegations as a false and malicious campaign to silence him.
"Just like other prominent and controversial people, I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity," O'Reilly said in a statement after the payouts became public.
Neil Mullin, Bernstein's lawyer, said Bernstein should have been protected from O'Reilly's public accusations by a non-disparagement clause and a confidentially clause that were part of the settlement. Because of O'Reilly's comments, Bernstein, now a supervising producer on TBS' Conan, has suffered "severe emotional distress, physical sickness, and loss of income," the lawsuit says.
"The confidentiality clause made it really clear. It said basically that if you're asked by the press about this case just simply say that the matter was settled," Mullin said. "That's simple as pie. Now you can see how far O'Reilly has strayed from that simple mandate."
He added: "The plain implication is awful, it's just awful what he's suggesting about our client and frankly about all the women in the settlements. Imagine how women feel when a man of his wealth and power is out there suggesting they're all a bunch of extortionists. They're all a bunch of liars. They're all a bunch of political hatchet women."
Bernstein's lawsuit also targets Fox News over claims the network made in an April 1 statement that said no current or former Fox News employee had used the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about O'Reilly.
The hotline didn't exist at the time Bernstein was employed by the network, according to Mullin. Bernstein, who worked there from 1996 to 2002, took her complaints to human resources, former executive Bill Shine and other top officials at the network, Mullin said.
"She complained to various people of authority and they didn't protect her. She did complain and it's a lie to say she didn't," Mullin said.
View the complete lawsuit here: