Former Fox News employee Laurie Luhn is suing Fox News, 21st Century Fox, and disgraced former executive turned Trump White House communications director Bill Shine for negligence and employment discrimination for sexual abuse by Roger Ailes that spanned over two decades, according to a complaint filed Wednesday morning.
Luhn, represented by Reid Collins & Tsai, is suing under New York State’s Adult Survivors Act, a law passed in May 2022, which allows survivors of sexual misconduct a one-time opportunity to pursue civil litigation, even if the statute of limitations has lapsed. It is the same law that has allowed for former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll to sue former President Donald Trump, whom she has accused of raping her in a department store in the ’90s. Carroll is suing Trump for defamation and battery. (Trump has denied all allegations.)
“This complaint is an example of how the law allows victims of abuse to finally hold powerful institutions like Fox News accountable for the harm they caused,” Barbara Whiten Balliette, lead counsel for Luhn, told Vanity Fair in an email.
According to Luhn’s complaint, Ailes blackmailed her by videotaping and photographing her in sexual acts “to ensure her compliance and public silence” about his misconduct. “He constantly reminded Luhn that he ‘owned’ her, that she was his ‘sex slave,’” and that if she came forward about it, “he would make her pay dearly,” the complaint reads. It also asserts that Fox News and its parent company 21st Century Fox knew about it “yet did nothing to stop it.”
“This case is about finally securing justice for Ms. Luhn,” Whiten Balliette said. “She hopes to hold Bill Shine and Fox News accountable for the years of abuse, trauma, sexual violence, and discrimination she suffered at the hands of Roger Ailes—and which they enabled. She has never received any compensation for these outrages, which have profoundly and irrevocably damaged her life.”
Luhn is also accusing Shine—whom the complaint describes as “Ailes’s hatchet man”—of abetting his boss and covering up his alleged misconduct. Shine “took it upon himself to control Luhn’s personal life, manage her medical care, and ensure her public silence about the sexual abuse,” the complaint said. Luhn is asking for compensatory damages and punitive damages.
“This matter was settled years ago, dismissed in subsequent litigation, and is meritless,” a Fox News Media spokesperson said. Vanity Fair has reached out to 21st Century Fox and NewsNation (where Mr. Shine serves as a consultant) for comment.
Luhn has attempted several legal actions against Fox and surrounding media ever since accusing former Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of sexual abuse internally more than a decade ago. Per the complaint, Ailes hired Luhn in the late 1980s and brought her on to Fox News when it launched. She worked at the network from 1996 to 2011, serving as the director of booking and then as the senior director of corporate and special events. In 2011, after reporting the harassment, she took a reported $3.15 million settlement from Fox and signed a nondisclosure agreement. Luhn later said she was “pressured, coerced and fraudulently induced” into complying with the settlement.
She sued Fox News and the network’s new CEO Suzanne Scott for defamation in 2019, after Scott denied knowing about abuse allegations against Ailes. Fox filed a motion to dismiss the case and won. During the making of a Roger Ailes miniseries—based on a book by Vanity Fair correspondent Gabriel Sherman—Luhn sued Showtime in 2019 for violating her right to privacy; however, she dropped the $750 million lawsuit six months after filing.
The complaint filed Wednesday stated that “Luhn accepted a settlement that amounted only to her current salary until she hit retirement age ($250,000 x 12 years). Fox News withheld over 30% of the settlement for taxes like they would for a payment of wages or a severance payment. Although this settlement was inadequate, Luhn’s dire financial situation (caused by her inability to work because of the trauma of the sexual assaults) combined with her oppressive fear of the Fox News machine and Shine’s continued control over her life forced her to capitulate.”
Shine hasn’t been accused of harassment himself and denied knowing anything about Ailes’s alleged misconduct. In May 2017, he was ousted from Fox partly for helping to enable sexual harassment.
At least 20 women accused Ailes of sexual harassment; Ailes resigned from Fox in July 2016, and he died in May of the following year.