Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly settled a sex harassment claim for $32 million with a former legal analyst Lis Wiehl, according to an explosive report from The New York Times Saturday.
The settlement is one of the biggest in recent memory, topping even the $20 million payment received by former Fox News host, Gretchen Carlson, who sued the late Fox News boss Roger Ailes, after alleging she was harassed.
“The O’Reilly Factor” was one of the biggest shows in cable news — earning around $326 million a year in advertising revenue, but its host was forced off air after The New York Times broke news of harassment allegations earlier this year. Advertisers fled the show and 21st Century Fox, owner of Fox News, parted ways with the host while he was on vacation in Rome visiting the pope.
Sex harassment allegations can expose companies to serious financial harm if they don't deal with them carefully. Fox raised some eyebrows after it signed the host to a new multi-million dollar contract, despite knowing of the claim by Wiehl against O'Reilly.
21st Century Fox said in a statement provided to NBC News:
“When the company renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract in February, it knew that a sexual harassment lawsuit had been threatened against him by Lis Wiehl, but was informed by Mr. O’Reilly that he had settled the matter personally on financial terms that he and Ms. Wiehl had agreed were confidential and not disclosed to the company. His new contract which was made at the time typical for renewals of multi-year talent contracts, added protections of the company specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr.O’Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations of if additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract.”
O’Reilly has settled three cases against him personally with the others settled by 21st Century Fox, according to one person familiar with discussions. The New York Times reported Wiehl’s settlement was the sixth settlement made by the parties involved.
In a statement from O’Reilly’s spokesman, Mark Fabiani slammed The New York Times for not including an affidavit signed by Wiehl withdrawing her claims.
It said: “Here are the facts: after the Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes was fired in July 2015, dozens of women accused scores of male employees of Fox News of harassment — including the current co-president of Fox News Jack Abernathy. 21st Century Fox settled almost all of these cases, paying out close to $100 million. Six months after Mr. Ailes left the company, Fox News Corporation signed Bill O’Reilly to a record breaking new contract after the company had analyzed and considered the allegations against him.”
Lawyers for Ms. Wiehl, Jonathan S. Abady and O. Andrew F. Wilson, with Manhattan based law firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, did not return a call for comment.