A former Fox News employee sued the network Wednesday, alleging that the late Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes sexually abused her for years.
Laura Luhn, who worked at the network for almost 15 years, filed the suit in New York state court against Fox News, its former parent company, 21st Century Fox, and former network executive Bill Shine, accusing the network of “directly enabling” and “actively covering up” the abuse.
In the lawsuit, Luhn says Ailes, who died in 2017, “used his position as the head of Fox News to trap Laura W. Luhn in a decades-long cycle of sexual abuse.” Luhn alleges that the first instance of abuse took place in 1991 when she worked at his firm Ailes Communications and continued when she joined Fox News in 1996, calling it “repeated and habitual.”
“Ailes’s abuse of Luhn was among the worst he inflicted on his many victims,” the lawsuit says. “He physically forced Luhn to perform oral sex on him regularly. And he constantly reminded Luhn that he ‘owned’ her, that she was his ‘sex slave,’ and that she was forbidden from telling anyone about the abuse or he would make her pay dearly.”
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The suit alleges that Ailes photographed and videotaped Luhn “performing coerced sex acts” and in “compromising positions” and used the material as blackmail. Ailes allegedly made it clear that if she tried to speak out or stop the abuse, Luhn would experience “severe personal humiliation and career ruin,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also alleges corporate leaders, including Shine, were aware of Ailes’ conduct but “did nothing to stop it” and “engaged in coordinated public smear campaigns” against victims to ensure their silence.
Luhn says in the suit that in 2011 she sent a letter to Fox’s general counsel detailing Ailes’ abuse. Luhn says she did not sue but accepted a settlement with the network that paid her salary until retirement age, which amounted to $250,000 annually for 12 years. The suit says the network withheld over 30% of the payment for taxes.
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“Although this settlement was inadequate, Luhn’s dire financial situation (caused by her inability to work because of the trauma of the sexual assaults) combined with her oppressive fear of the Fox News machine and Shine’s continued control over her life forced her to capitulate,” the suit alleges.
Luhn did not hold another job after 2011, according to her lawyer.
Fox News Media, the owner of Fox News, said in a statement that “this matter was settled years ago, dismissed in subsequent litigation, and is meritless.” Former Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox ceased to exist in 2019.
Shine did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He left Fox News in 2017 and worked in the Trump administration as deputy White House chief of staff of communications and then director of communications in 2018 and 2019 before he joined President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
Luhn sued under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, signed into law last year, which allows survivors of alleged sexual assault to bring suit outside of the original statute of limitations.
“This case is about finally securing justice for Ms. Luhn. The sexual abuse that she suffered while working at Fox News was some of the worst imaginable,” said Luhn’s attorney, Barbara Whiten Balliette, a partner at Reid Collins & Tsai LLP. “This abuse went on for years and was known about by some of the most powerful people at Fox News, yet no one stepped in to help or to stop what was happening to Ms. Luhn.”
Luhn spoke about the alleged abuse in a 2016 New York Magazine article, calling it “psychological torture” and labeling Ailes a “predator.”
Luhn also lost a defamation suit against Fox News and the network’s CEO, Suzanne Scott, in 2019, after Scott denied knowing about Ailes’ sexual misconduct.