Roger Ailes might or might not be getting a position in the Trump administration, but the former Fox News chief’s time at the channel has found his old bosses back in court with another sexual harassment lawsuit – this time from a NYC Fox reporter.
Not that Fox is holding anything back in its response.
“We do not think the plaintiff’s claims have merit, and we intend to defend vigorously,” a Fox Television Stations spokesperson told Deadline of the discrimination and hostile-workplace complaint from Lidija Ujkic. Representatives for Ailes did not respond to request for comment. While Ailes himself is not named as a defendant in the wide-ranging but unspecified-damages-seeking suit, 21st Century Fox, Fox Entertainment Group and Fox Television Stations are.
The plaintiff, “professionally known as Lidia Curanaj,” alleges that Ailes harassed her during a “private interview” for a FNC job in May 2011 after meeting her a few months before at an event with her then-date, NY state Sen. Gregory Ball. “During this private interview, Ailes insisted that Ms. Curanaj sit directly next to him on a couch in his office,” notes the jury-seeking filing in federal court (read it here).
“Ailes then asked Ms. Curanaj to stand up and ‘turn around’ so that he could ‘see [her] from behind,’” the complaint adds. “This, of course, made Ms. Curanaj extremely uncomfortable, but, as requested, she stood up, quickly twirled around and sat back down. Ailes leered at her and commented, ‘I like what I see.’”
The detailed filing goes on to add that Ailes reached out to former boyfriend Ball and asked bluntly about what their sex life had been like — an inquiry that Ball responded to by saying she was a “very nice girl.”
“Ms. Curanaj did not receive the position at FNC because Ailes determined that she would not submit to him sexually,” the complaint concludes. “Based on the temporal proximity between her private interview with Ailes, the call from Ailes to Senator Ball and Ailes’ subsequent decision to not hire her, it was clear to Ms. Curanaj that she was ‘not ready’ for FNC because of Ailes discovery that she would be unwilling to submit to him, sexually.”
Submitting to Ailes sexually, or at least his advances, was the last straw for ex-Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson, who went on to sue FNC over the media giant’s actions last summer. A lawsuit that led to an internal investigation at the news calber, saw others emerge with similar accusations and the once all-powerful Ailes be pink-slipped from the channel he fostered for Rupert Murdoch by the media mogul. With allegations of moves Ailes tried to make on the likes of Megyn Kelly swirling around, Fox and Carlson worked out a $20 million settlement, announced on September 6. Ailes received a $40 million payout when Murdoch and his sons sent him packing right in the middle of the GOP convention in July
Joining similar ongoing suits about Ailes’ alleged behavior, like the one from former The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros, this 28-page filing goes on to put a spotlight on the conditions the veteran TV reporter has faced since joining NYC affiliate Fox 5 on November 5, 2011. Specifically it focuses on her relationship with the station’s News Director Byron Harmon, who also is named as a defendant in the complaint along with the Fox entities.
“The unlawful discriminatory motives underlying Harmon’s treatment of Ms. Curanaj are demonstrated by his near constant use of discriminatory language that evinces bias against women, pregnant women, older individuals, people of Balkan descent and individuals with illnesses,” the 14-claim complaint says, with examples of those very actions.
How Fox react in court with that “vigorous” defense they have asserted, we will have to see.
Douglas H. Wigdor, Jeanne Christensen and Michael Willemin of the NYC offices of Wigdor LLP represent the plaintiff.