Bill O’Reilly is being sued by a former Fox News producer who claims he violated a settlement agreement in a harassment case by disparaging her in the media as a liar and extortionist.
Rachel Witlieb Bernstein’s attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against O’Reilly and his former employer, Fox News, for breach of contract and defamation.
Her attorneys said in the lawsuit that O’Reilly and the network violated non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses in their 2002 settlement agreement with Bernstein, which stated that if asked about the case, they “may say only ‘The matter has been resolved (or settled)’, without elaboration.”
“But he’s gone far beyond that and painted our client in a terrible light,” one of her attorneys, Neil Mullin, told The Washington Post.
O’Reilly has publicly denied harassment accusations, calling himself a “target” and saying the claims against him were “politically and financially motivated.”
The lawsuit states that O’Reilly’s remarks portrayed Bernstein in a “false light” and “disparaged her character, in fact calling her a liar and an extortionist.”
“In fact, Mr. O’Reilly is the liar,” the complaint stated. “He mistreated Ms. Bernstein. She was forced out of her job at Fox News and paid a settlement because of his mistreatment.
“She did go to HR and other company executives to complain about him several times. Fox News took no action to protect plaintiff from O’Reilly. There were many witnesses to her mistreatment. She was not politically or financially motivated to raise the claims of abuse.”
Mullin said O’Reilly’s comments not only violated their 2002 settlement agreement but also illustrate a broader issue, in which powerful men who are exposed as harassers attempt to discredit their victims.
“The reason women don’t come out is because there’s a pattern of these men lashing out,” Mullin said.
Mullin said O’Reilly and Fox News have made “false and disparaging claims” against women who had to sign nondisclosure agreements, adding that the women should be released from those agreements.
“It is cowardly to publicly attack these women knowing they have been subjected to contractual provisions requiring absolute silence,” he said.
O’Reilly’s attorney, Fredric S. Newman, said in a statement that “Bill O’Reilly has never mentioned the plaintiff’s name publicly in any context.”
Newman added that Bernstein’s lawsuit had no merit and said that O’Reilly would “respond aggressively in court.”
Fox News could not immediately be reached for comment.
Allegations against O’Reilly came to light in April when the New York Times reported that the cable star and Fox News paid out millions of dollars to five women to settle harassment claims.
As the newspaper reported at the time:
Fox News has been aware of complaints about inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly since at least 2002, when Mr. O’Reilly stormed into the newsroom and screamed at a young producer, according to current and former employees, some of whom witnessed the incident.
Shortly thereafter, the woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, left the network with a payout and bound by a confidentiality agreement, people familiar with the deal said. The exact amount she was paid is not known, but it was far less than the other settlements. The case did not involve sexual harassment.
Bernstein’s attorneys said in a statement that she “was not the source for this revelation.”
The Times added:
In a statement, Mr. O’Reilly suggested that his prominence made him a target.
“Just like other prominent and controversial people,” the statement read, “I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.
“But most importantly, I’m a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children.
“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel. Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”
In interviews and statements following the story, O’Reilly further denied the allegations.
In September, he appeared on the “Today” show, saying that in 42 years in the business, “not one time, did I have any interaction with HR, any complaints filed against me.”
“In totality, this was a hit job, a political and financial hit job,” O’Reilly said.
In the new lawsuit, Bernstein’s attorneys said: “This defamatory and disparaging statement is false. Ms. Bernstein settled her claims and left Fox News because of severe mistreatment and by Mr. O’Reilly, as he knows.”
The lawsuit says Bernstein has suffered loss of income, emotional distress and illness.
The filing comes amid mounting harassment and sexual misconduct claims against celebrities, politicians and other public figures. Following an uproar over harassment claims against O’Reilly, Fox News severed its relationship with him in April, just months after the media company became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal involving its founder, Roger Ailes.
This post has been updated.