Ex-Fox News host Tantaros sues network for sexual harassment

(From far left) Andrea Tantaros with co-hosts Bob Beckel, Eric Bolling, Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld on the set of round-table show The Five in 2011.
(From left) Andrea Tantaros with co-hosts Bob Beckel, Eric Bolling, Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld on the set of round-table show The Five in 2011. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Former Fox News host and political analyst Andrea Tantaros on Monday sued the cable channel and former chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, alleging that the network pretends to act as a defender of family values while operating like a "sex-fuelled, Playboy Mansion-like cult".

Tantaros, 37, is the latest former female Fox News employee to make sexual harassment claims against the network since Mr Ailes stepped down last month following an investigation of similar accusations in a suit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, 50.

Tantaros is seeking almost US$50 million (S$68 million) in damages, saying that her tenure at the network "devolved into a nightmare of sexual harassment" by Mr Ailes and others. She claims she was subjected to a campaign of retaliation when she complained, which included removing her as a host of the weekday round-table show The Five.

Fox News said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation. Ms Susan Estrich, an attorney representing Mr Ailes, did not immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the suit.

21st Century Fox named long- time company veterans Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine as co-presidents of the Fox News Channel and Fox Business this month to fill the leadership void created when Mr Ailes stepped down.

Tantaros' claims came a week after The New York Times reported that Mr Ailes, 76, was helping Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump prepare for debates with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign said Mr Ailes had no formal or informal role.

Tantaros had served in several roles on high-profile political campaigns before joining the network in 2011 as one of the original co-hosts of The Five, a show that features a revolving panel discussing current issues. In the lawsuit, she says she experienced harassment from the start as it became clear that Fox was "defined by a culture of sexism that emanated from Mr Ailes".

She also claims she was forced to wear clothes that showed off her legs and strip down in front of wardrobe personnel while picking clothing to wear on camera.

She alleges the harassment got worse in the late summer of 2014. That was when Mr Ailes twice asked her to turn around so he could get a "good look" - a request that was made so often of other women who appeared on the network that it was known as "the twirl", according to the complaint filed on Monday in the state court in Manhattan.

Carlson in July filed a lawsuit making similar harassment allegations against Mr Ailes, but unlike Tantaros she did not claim she was silenced by other Fox executives.

Tantaros contends the campaign of retaliation began after she met Mr Shine in the spring of 2015 to talk about Mr Ailes' behaviour and was told to "let this one go".

After she continued to complain, she was removed as a host of The Five and moved to a daytime slot on the grounds that she had written a book without permission in violation of company policies, according to the complaint.

"It is hard to imagine an employer not firing an employee for breaching a material term of her employment agreement and then making false claims of sexual harassment," lawyers for Tantaros said in the complaint. "Yet, here, Fox News has continued to pay Tantaros her salary in the hope that the fear of losing her income will keep her quiet."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-Fox News host Tantaros sues network for sexual harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe