The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is supporting a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Fox News and several of its anchors, including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.
The organization — which was founded in the wake of the #MeToo movement — is providing PR support to Cathy Areu, a former unpaid Fox News contributor who alleges she faced a “barrage of sexual harassment” at the network.
Fox News has pushed back aggressively on Areu’s claims, releasing messages that appeared to contradict her initial account and threatening to seek legal sanctions if her allegations were not withdrawn.
Areu and Jennifer Eckhart, a former associate producer at the network, filed suit on July 20 in federal court in New York.
Eckhart alleged that Ed Henry, the veteran correspondent and anchor at the network, had violently raped her at a hotel room in 2017. She also accused Henry of psychologically manipulating her and asking her to be his “sex slave.” The complaint included numerous graphic text messages allegedly sent by Henry.
Henry was fired on July 1, shortly after Eckhart’s attorneys, Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin, notified the network of her claim. Henry has denied the allegations, saying the relationship was consensual, but Fox News has not defended him.
Areu also accused Henry of sending graphic and unwanted messages, and said that Henry ended their relationship after she refused to have sex with him.
Wigdor has previously represented many former Fox News employees who have accused the network and of sexual misconduct.
The Ed Henry lawsuit also included Areu’s allegations against several other network stars.
Areu alleged that Carlson propositioned her, telling her after a show that he would be alone at his hotel room that night. After she sidestepped the advance, she alleged that her appearances on his show dwindled and then stopped altogether.
Areu lodged a similar allegation against Howard Kurtz, the host of the network’s show “Media Buzz.” She alleged that Kurtz invited her to his hotel room, and stopped inviting her on the show after she declined, saying in substance, “you’re the only woman here who won’t come to my hotel room.”
She also alleged that Hannity offered to pay $100 to any man on set who would take Areu on a date. She said she was “mortified” by Hannity’s behavior, and that after that experience she was hardly ever invited on his show.
Three days after the complaint was filed, Mediaite ran a story highlighting “inconsistencies” in Areu’s account. The story quoted from an email Areu sent to Kurtz, in which she wrote, “What’s your room number? What name are you under? What’s your cell? I’m coming over. We can do it the easy way, or the hard way.”
The network has accused Wigdor and Areu of “serious misconduct by making patently false allegations” against the three hosts. In August, Fox’s lawyers demanded that Wigdor retract the allegations within 21 days or face sanctions.
Wigdor has withdrawn as Areu’s attorney, though he still represents Eckhart. Areu has since retained James A. Vagnini, who is now seeking to split the case from Eckhart’s suit.
On Friday, Vagnini filed an amended complaint that lays out Areu’s allegations in further detail. The complaint alleges that Fox leaked “cherry-picked” emails to make it appear that Areu welcomed the sexual advances.
Regarding the Kurtz incident, for example, the complaint states that by the time she sent the email seeking his room number, she had already made it clear she would not come to his room, and was using over-the-top humor in an effort to defuse the situation.
The amended complaint also alleges a “pay for play” environment at Fox News, where female contributors are forced to succumb to sexual advances in order to succeed.
Vangini also notified the court on Friday that he may seek to convert the case to a class action, with Areu representing a class of unpaid contributors.
Fox denied the claims again in a statement.
“As we have maintained, the accusations against Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Howard Kurtz are utterly devoid of merit,” the network said. “Ms. Areu’s allegation that women are not treated equally at FOX News is also provably false and yet another malicious attempt to smear the network with baseless claims. In fact, FOX News has provided more leadership opportunities for women than any other cable news network, including featuring more solo women anchors and hosts on-air and retaining a senior staff comprised of more than 50% female executives.“