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Fox News guest, in lawsuit, says she was raped by host, blacklisted by network

Fox News headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on April 19. A former commentator, Scottie Nell Hughes, filed a lawsuit Monday alleging she was raped by business anchor Charles Payne. (AP)

Former Fox News guest Scottie Nell Hughes says she was raped by longtime anchor Charles Payne, and then blacklisted by the network when she came forward with her allegations, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Hughes, 37, says in the suit that Payne “pressured” his way into her hotel room in 2013 and coerced her to have sexual intercourse with him, even as she rebuffed his attempts. She did not immediately report the episode because she was “ashamed,” according to the complaint, and was forced over the next two years to engage in a sexual relationship with Payne.

Hughes, who was a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business from 2013 until 2016, said that when she ended the relationship with Payne, the network blacklisted her.

The network is strongly defending Payne, the host of the personal finance show “Making Money” on Fox Business Network, calling Hughes’s allegations against him a “publicity stunt.”

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The network suspended Payne in July pending an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct. He returned to the air in September after the network said it had completed its investigation, which had been launched when Hughes took her allegations to lawyers in late June.

“We will vigorously defend this,” a Fox representative said.

Jonathan N. Halpern, who is representing Payne, said in a statement Monday that his client “vehemently denies any wrongdoing and will defend himself vigorously against this baseless claim.”

“We are confident that when the evidence is presented in this case, Mr. Payne will be fully vindicated and these outrageous accusations against him will be confirmed as completely false,” Halpern said.

The lawsuit, which names 21st Century Fox, Fox News and Payne as defendants, was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It alleges gender motivated violence, gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation.

Hughes said in a statement that her complaint “speaks for itself.”

“What is most important to me is that justice will prevent other women from going through the nightmare I’m now living.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Hughes said that, “In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne. In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News,” referring to the month the National Enquirer published an article about her relationship with Payne, which she alleges was leaked by Fox. “Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.”

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In the last two years, Fox News executives and hosts have faced multiple lawsuits and complaints about sexual harassment, with a growing number of women claiming a hostile work environment at the network. These allegations precipitated the departure of then-chairman Roger Ailes, who was sued by former network anchor Gretchen Carlson, and one of the network’s most popular hosts, Bill O’Reilly, whose swift downfall came after “revelations of a string of sexual harassment complaints against him,” the Post reported.

In July 2013, when Hughes and Payne were in New York ahead of appearances on a Fox program, the former Wall Street analyst asked to enter Hughes’s hotel room for a “private discussion,” according to the complaint.

She alleges that when he made sexual advances, she told him “no” and “stop,” but Payne forced her to engage in sexual intercourse.

“Too shocked and ashamed to speak out, Ms. Hughes told no one about what happened,” the lawsuit says. She is being represented by Wigdor LLP, which is representing several current and former Fox News employees.

Michael J Willemin, a senior associate with the firm, said Fox’s statement following Hughes’s allegations shows that the network’s “reflexive response to complaints of unlawful sexual harassment is to attack the victim.”

“Fox cannot spin its way out of this crisis,” he said.

Following the alleged rape, Hughes says that Payne’s invitations to appear on his show and other Fox shows “increased dramatically.” Payne convinced Hughes into a sexual relationship “for career opportunities and benefits,” the lawsuit says, including promising to help her secure a job as a contributor with the network, which can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year.

Hughes worked as a paid contributor at CNN during the 2016 presidential campaign. She never became a contributor at Fox News or Fox Business.

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Payne joined Fox Business as a contributor during its launch in 2007 and regularly appears as a guest on Fox News shows.

After Hughes ended the relationship in June 2015, she says she began receiving fewer invitations to appear on Fox shows and learned in early 2017 she had been blacklisted by Fox entirely and taken out of consideration for several positions in the Trump administration after being labeled by Fox as “not bookable.”

In June, she asked her manager to give details about her allegations to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the law firm investigating sexual harassment issues at Fox News. She alleges that in retaliation for coming forward, Fox leaked her name to the National Enquirer, which published an article in July in which Payne acknowledged and apologized for an extramarital “romantic affair.”

Payne was suspended from the network following publication of the article, as investigators looked into the accusations against him. But he returned to air in September, after the internal investigation was completed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Hughes is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for economic and emotional harm.