Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Once Again Ails Fox

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By Jon Steingart

A TV news reporter sued Twentieth-Century Fox Inc. alleging Fox News then-CEO Roger Ailes initially turned her away from a job in New York because she rejected his sexual advances ( Ujkic v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. , S.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-09608, complaint filed 12/13/16 ).

The lawsuit filed yesterday by Lidia Curanaj names Fox, a few subsidiary companies and a former supervisor as defendants. It doesn’t name Ailes. This differs from litigation filed in July by former Fox News Channel host Gretchen Carlson. She brought her case only against Ailes.

Ailes’ attorneys said Carlson’s contract included an arbitration agreement that required her to prosecute her claim out of court, but the parties settled before the judge ruled on that issue. That case prompted other women to come forward with similar allegations against Ailes. Ailes resigned, and Carlson settled the lawsuit for a reported $20 million.

“Our client does not have an arbitration provision, so that is not an avenue that is available for Fox here,” Jeanne Christensen, an attorney for Curanaj, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 14 by e-mail. Her case “will play out in federal court.” Christensen said.

A statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Dec. 14 by Carlson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin in Montclair, N.J., said, “Gretchen has no personal knowledge of Ms. Curanaj’s allegations, but supports all victims of harassment and will continue to speak out against efforts to disparage, silence, or retaliate against victims.”

Asked to ‘Stand Up and Twirl.'

According to Curanaj’s complaint, Ailes asked her to “stand up and twirl around for him” when he interviewed her for a position at Fox News. “How’s the sex?” he allegedly asked someone with whom Curanaj attended a dinner.

Ailes determined Curanaj wasn’t right for the national network but suggested she might be a good fit at one of its local stations, Michael Willemin, another one of her attorneys, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 14.

Curanaj, whose legal name is Lidija Ujkic, joined WNYW, the New York City Fox station. She says its news director, Byron Harmon, mistreated her after she told him she was pregnant.

“After she disclosed her pregnancy, Ms. Curanaj was subjected to increased and even more humiliating discrimination and harassment that is still ongoing at Fox 5,” Willemin told Bloomberg BNA by e-mail Dec. 14. She also saw a cut in her hours that resulted in a reduction in pay, according to the complaint.

“We do not think the plaintiff’s claims have merit, and we intend to defend vigorously,” Fox Television Stations LLC spokeswoman Erica Keane told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail Dec. 14.

Christensen and Willemin are with Wigdor LLP in New York City, where Douglas Wigdor also represents Curanaj. An attorney hasn’t entered an appearance for Fox or Harmon.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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