UPDATED with Fox Statement: Francisco Cortes, who was fired as vice president of Fox News Latino for allegedly sexually harassing Fox News contributor Tamara Holder, has filed a $48 million lawsuit against 21st Century Fox, claiming that he’s been made a “scapegoat” and a “Latino patsy” to help Fox “demonstrate that it aggressively handles sexual harassment complaints.”
Holder claims that Cortes tried to force her to have oral sex with him in February 2015 when the two were alone in his office. She didn’t report it to management until September 2016, however, saying that she feared doing so would ruin her career. Fox launched an investigation, and Cortes was fired.
In his 54-page lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court in Manhattan (read it here), Cortes “vehemently denies” her allegation, saying he’ll provide evidence at trial to show that their relationship was “consensual.” That evidence, he said, includes emails, text messages, photos and other supporting documents.
A Fox News spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline, “The allegations in this lawsuit are frivolous and without merit.”
Cortes claims that his firing was part of a “conspiracy” by Fox and New York Times reporter Emily Steele, who in March broke the story about the alleged assault and his firing. Cortes said that Fox forced him a month earlier to sign a confidential agreement in which he agreed not to disparage Fox and Holder in exchange for Fox and Holder agreeing not to disparage him.
Cortes, however, claims that two weeks after signing the agreement, Holder and Fox “delivered a previously planned and carefully negotiated joint statement to The New York Times regarding the allegations, in violation of their obligations under the agreement, destroying Mr. Cortes’ reputation, irreparably damaging his career opportunities, and intentionally and/or with reckless disregard hurting his family.”
They did this, he claims, knowing that he would be forced to remain silent or violate the terms of the agreement, leaving him exposed to a lawsuit by Fox and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, “who, as Mr. Cortes has learned, remain highly dangerous and willing to use their power to advance their interests.”
A Fox official familiar with Cortes’ suit called it “ridiculous,” saying that the company investigated Holder’s claim and “took action. Period. The New York Times thing is absurd. If you look up Emily’s story you’ll see a New York Times photo of Holder; it says was taken in October, before the March story ran. So clearly, someone — not us — was in touch with The New York Times.”
In his suit, Cortes said “the decision to ‘scapegoat’ Mr. Cortes was based, in part, on a willingness of Fox executives and the Murdochs to subscribe to a stereotype of the Hispanic man.”
Cortes further claims that Fox’ $2.5 million settlement with Holder was part of its $15 billion effort to acquire the UK’s Sky News. “Although Fox has represented to all that the purpose of the $2.5 million payment was to settle the allegations of Tamara Holder,” the suit says, “the payment of the $2.5 million was to cement a fraud and conspiracy against Mr. Cortes, a Hispanic man, in order to improve the defendants’ chances of prevailing in the Sky bid.”
The suit also claims: “Given Fox’s, the Murdochs’ and Tamara Holder’s willingness to subscribe to this stereotype of the Hispanic man, and their belief that others would also do so, they found Mr. Cortes to be a useful ‘scapegoat’ to cleanse themselves of the taint of the sexual harassment scandal at Fox, which posed a threat not only to the Murdoch’s acquisition of Sky News, but to Fox and the Murdoch’s advertising revenues. Thus, Fox and the Murdochs devised and expertly executed their plan, arrived at with the assistance and upon the advice of Fox’s outside legal counsel, Paul Weiss, to perfect Mr. Cortes’ utility as their sexual harassment scandal ‘patsy.’”
His suit says that Cortes is also concerned “for the emotional welfare and even physical safety of his family,” citing “private investigators Fox might be able to bring to bear against him who might be willing in exchange of payment to ‘cut corners’ to defend their employer.”