O'Reilly Sued for Defamation by Ex-Fox Producer in Secrecy Twist

(Bloomberg) -- Former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly was sued by a onetime producer who claims he defamed her and broke an secrecy agreement that was part of a lawsuit settlement 15 years ago.

The suit by Rachel Witlieb Bernstein also names Fox News as a defendant. Bernstein claims that O’Reilly and the network wronged her with comments they made after the New York Times reported this year that the former talk-show host and his employer had entered into six settlements with O’Reilly accusers totaling about $45 million.

O’Reilly was forced out at Fox News this year over allegations of sexual harassment. In her complaint in Manhattan federal court on Monday, Bernstein calls him a "serial abuser and coward hiding behind the nondisclosure agreements he forced his victims to sign.”

Amid a drumbeat of reports about gender bias in the media, politics and the arts, critics have pointed to confidentiality clauses as a tool offenders used to conceal and perpetuate their conduct. Monday’s lawsuit may be the first to target a secrecy provision, with a claim that it was Fox News and O’Reilly who violated it.

Bernstein says she entered into a confidential deal with O’Reilly and Fox News in July 2002. In April, after the Times reported on the six settlements, O’Reilly and his network allegedly defamed Bernstein and breached a deal when they said that no current or former Fox employees had called a company hotline to object to his behavior.

No Hotline

In fact, Bernstein says, there was no such hotline and she had repeatedly complained to executives about his behavior. She also says O’Reilly lied when he portrayed himself as a "target" and claimed complaints against him are extortion attempts.

O’Reilly has never mentioned Bernstein’s name in public and the case was "absolutely" not one of sexual harassment, Fredric Newman, his lawyer, said in a statement Monday. O’Reilly will respond "aggressively" in court, he added.

Fox News has been aware of complaints about O’Reilly’s inappropriate behavior since at least 2002, when he stormed into the newsroom and screamed at Bernstein, the Times reported in April, citing current and former employees. Bernstein left Fox soon after with a payout and was bound by a confidentiality agreement, the newspaper said. She was paid much less than the other women who settled, and the case didn’t involve sexual harassment, the Times reported.

Representatives of Fox didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The case is Bernstein v. O’Reilly, 17-cv-09483, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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