On Monday, two women filed a sexual misconduct civil lawsuit against Fox News, naming four anchors at the network in a 39-page harassment claim. The suit once again puts the network’s history of rampant sexual harassment and toxic workplace culture at the forefront, demanding justice for accusations of rape and sexual misconduct.
Jennifer Eckhart, a Fox Business Associate Producer, and Cathy Areu, a regular on-air commentator for the network, have named Ed Henry, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Howard Kurtz in their Manhattan complaint. Eckhart specifically accused Ed Henry, who Fox fired earlier this month, of raping her and threatening to retaliate if she refused his advances. What's more, the suit alleges that Fox was made aware of the rape allegations but did not report or investigate anything beyond firing him from the network.
“It is widely documented in the public record that Fox News has not only cultivated and fostered sexual harassment and misconduct but has consistently accepted and rewarded it,” reads the newly-filed suit. “Nevertheless, Fox News would have the public believe that it is a different place from the Fox News that was run by former disgraced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Unfortunately, it is actually worse.”
According to the lawsuit, Henry "preyed upon, manipulated and groomed” Eckhart into a violent sexual relationship. The suit alleges that Henry suggested he could help Eckhart advance her career in exchange for sex. Furthermore, Eckhart claims that in 2017 Henry physically restrained and raped her after she refused him, and in 2015, Henry forced her to perform oral sex on him. Henry is also accused of taking explicit photos of Eckhart without her consent and using them to taunt her. The suit includes texts exchanged between Henry to Eckhart, detailing how he verbally abused her and demanded sex from her regularly.
Eckhart reported the rape directly to Fox News on June 25 and included those graphic text messages from Henry in her complaint. Fox News announced in an internal memo on July 1 that it had fired Henry after receiving a complaint against him of “willful sexual misconduct.” But the details of his removal were not shared, and the network reiterated in the memo that it “strictly prohibits all forms of sexual harassment, misconduct, and discrimination.”
Although Fox News denied the allegations against all existing staff members in a statement, they've encouraged both plaintiffs to pursue claims against Henry “directly with him, as Fox News already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart’s claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network.”
But the lawsuit's detailing — paired with Fox News' response — shows a deeply flawed system of reporting sexual harassment, abuse of power, and even rape at the company. The suit explicitly claims that Fox News has been aware of Henry’s predatory behavior since at least 2017 when the network conducted a company-wide sexual harassment investigation. Multiple women reportedly came forward about Henry, the complaint details, and the network responded by suspending him briefly before offering him a co-anchor position on America’s Newsroom.
This was after he was demoted the previous year when he took a leave of absence following allegations of an extramarital affair. He returned to Fox News later that year stepping into the position of chief national correspondent and then a co-anchor of Fox and Friends Weekend. Henry was promoted despite a colleague allegedly warning senior executives that reinstating him could damage Fox’s efforts to reform its workplace culture, reports NPR.
Areu’s claims include Henry and also list Carlson, Hannity, and Kurtz as repeat offenders of misogynistic, harassing behavior. At the time, she was an on-air commentator who openly said she was looking for a full-time position at the network. Henry reportedly sent Areu “a slew of wildly inappropriate sexual images and messages” suggesting that she have sex with him in exchange for professional favors. When she rejected him, Henry called her “boring” and ended their professional relationship, the lawsuit alleges.
Areu was a regular guest on Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight until 2018. One instance Areu details in the lawsuit include Hannity conducting a mock dating auction offering $100 for anyone to take her out on a date in front of the entire studio crew. In December 2018, after appearing on his show, Areu claims that Carlson told her “that he would be alone in New York City that night, and specifically said that he would be staying alone in his hotel room without any wife or kids.” Areu says she sidestepped his advances after which she only appeared on his show three times throughout the following year and not once in 2020.
Areu also appeared as a regular guest on Kurtz’s Fox News Media Buzz. She alleges that Kurtz tried to get her to come alone to his hotel room to discuss a full-time job at the network. When she refused, Kurtz “punished” her by limiting her appearances on his show.
Despite allegations in the suit, including multiple complaints and widespread knowledge of Henry's behavior, a Fox News spokesperson alleges that the company did not receive any complaints about him until this past June. Fox responded to these allegations with a statement, which reads:
“Based on the findings of a comprehensive independent investigation conducted by an outside law firm, including interview with numerous eyewitnesses, we have determined that Cathy Areu’s claims against Fox News, including its management as well as its hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Howard Kurtz and its contributor Gianno Caldwell, are false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit. We take all claims of harassment, misconduct and retaliation seriously, promptly investigating them and taking immediate action as needed – in this case, the appropriate action based on our investigation is to defend vigorously against these baseless allegations.”
After Fox fired him, Henry tweeted a statement from his lawyer, effectively denying all allegations against him as well. “Ed Henry denies the allegations referenced in the Fox announcement and is confident that he will be vindicated after a full hearing in an appropriate forum.”
These most recent allegations at the network follow accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against prominent figures at Fox News that date back years. In 2016, Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes resigned after allegations of misconduct. The following year, host Bill O’Reilly was pushed out of the network after a New York Times investigation revealed a number of settlements in which O’Reilly paid women to remain silent after complaints of sexual harassment. While steps have been made by the company to make changes, Fox News staffers say the company has been slow to work through its most toxic patterns, reports NPR.
Now, the network's problem with accounting for sexual harassment claims has amounted in these two women filing a detailed lawsuit with widespread allegations against Fox anchors. Both Eckhart and Areu issued statements saying that they hope that coming forward will create a better future.
“I stand for all victims who have been mistreated, harassed, assaulted, and even worse, at the hands of those in power, and the institutions that continue to support them," Eckhark posted on Twitter. "My decision to speak out was not an easy one, but I refuse to let fear of retaliation, victim shaming and further attacks intimidate me into remaining silent. I am hopeful that my decision to file this action will result in positive change for women at Fox, and for all victims in the workplace.”
“Like Ms. Eckhart, I too was fearful to come forward,” reads a statement issued by Areu. “However, I simply could not stay silent given the tremendous harm that Mr. Henry and others at Fox News have caused for women affiliated with the company.”