Trouble is brewing for Fox News’ legal team as former employee Laura Luhn files a lawsuit against the network, former co-president Bill Shine, and parent company 21st Century Fox. Interestingly, Luhn’s lawsuit was only possible through New York’s Adult Survivors Act—a new state law lifting the statute of limitations on certain sexual misconduct cases.
In 2016, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes faced multiple allegations of various forms of sexual harassment. One of his accusers, Laura Luhn, shared her story with New York Magazine that year. In the interview, Luhn described enduring two decades of sexual abuse and what she called “psychological torture” by Ailes.
Ailes resigned in 2016, and, one year later, he died after sustaining a head injury in his Florida home. Now, more than five years later, Luhn is reviving the scandal in her quest to hold her former employers financially responsible for the trauma she endured.
“Roger Ailes used his position as the head of Fox News to trap Laura W. Luhn in a decades-long cycle of sexual abuse,” the suit reads, via The Hollywood Reporter. “To ensure her compliance and public silence, Ailes photographed and videotaped Luhn in compromising positions—blackmail material that he explicitly described as his ‘insurance policy’—and made clear to Luhn that any attempt to speak out or stop the abuse would result in severe personal humiliation and career ruin.”
When Luhn went public with her story in 2016, the statute of limitations had passed for her to seek legal retribution against Ailes. However, in 2022, the state of New York passed the ASA, allowing victims a one year window to file complaints for incidents that took place years or even decades ago. Part of the law also allows victims of workplace abuse to level suits against their employers.
In the suit, Luhn describes meeting Ailes in 1988 at President George H.W. Bush’s campaign headquarters. Ailes took Luhn into his employ just a few years later, and, by 1991, the cycle of abuse had begun. According to Luhn, Ailes enjoyed flaunting his power over her. He would control what she wore, call her horrid derogatory names, and would even videotape their encounters as blackmail.
Luhn didn’t raise alarm bells in the early days because she feared both the social and professional humiliation. Not to mention, her career flourished thanks to her twisted “understanding” with Ailes.
“Ailes left no room for doubt that he viewed these forced acts as a quid pro quo for Luhn’s promotions and career advancement at Fox News,” the filing reads. “At one point after promoting Luhn to Manager of Booking in June 2004, Ailes demanded, ‘Now, remember, you’re Doris Day. Go put your uniform on, get over to the DoubleTree, and thank me for this.’”
The lawsuit claims Luhn eventually suffered a “mental breakdown” from the stress, of which “Fox News was well aware,” the complaint alleges. “Ailes’s hatchet man, Defendant [Bill] Shine, took it upon himself to control Luhn’s personal life, manage her medical care, and ensure her public silence about the sexual abuse.”
Acting on the advice of her psychiatrist, Luhn penned a letter detailing the abuse she endured and sent it to the company’s general counsel. She didn’t seek her own legal counsel before sending the letter, and, as a result, she quickly reached a settlement with the company.
As compensation, Luhn received what amounted to twelve years of her current salary—$250,000—although Fox News allegedly withheld over 30% of that money for taxes as they would “for payment of wages or severance.”
Luhn is now suing Fox News and 21st Century Fox for negligence and unlawful discriminatory practices on the basis of sex. She’s also suing former co-president Shine for aiding and abetting said unlawful discriminatory practices. Although her legal team has yet to name a number, they will be seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Luhn’s attorney, Barbara Whiten Balliette of Reid Collins and Tsai, issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter defending their use of the ASA. “The abuse that Ms. Luhn suffered was some of the worst imaginable. People knew, but no one at Fox News stepped in to stop it. Her career and her life were destroyed. The Adult Survivors Act was created to redress wrongs exactly like these,” said Balliette.
Fox News Media responded to the outlet, stating: “This matter was settled years ago, dismissed in subsequent litigation and is meritless.”
What’s clear is that, as a result of the ASA, these are uncharted waters for even the most seasoned litigators. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out to see how this potentially precedent-setting case unfolds from here.