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Woman sues Bill O'Reilly and Fox for defamation over harassment

by Claire Atkinson and Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 
Bill O'Reilly appears on "Today" on Sept. 19, 2017.NBC

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One of the women who reached a silent settlement with Bill O'Reilly over harassment charges sued the fallen pundit and his former employer, Fox News, on Monday for defamation and breach of contract.

The woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, claims that O'Reilly and Fox News violated the terms of the settlement they reached in 2002 by making public statements that depicted her as a liar and an extortionist.

"In fact, Mr. O'Reilly is the liar," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal District Court in Manhattan. "He mistreated Ms. Bernstein. She was forced out of her job at Fox News and paid a settlement because of the mistreatment."

Bernstein did not allege she was a victim of sexual harassment in the lawsuit. The New York Times, which first reported the suit, said she is part of a group of six women who made settlements with the host.

In the lawsuit, Bernstein said remarks that both O'Reilly and Fox News made in response to a New York Times article in April about how the network protected O'Reilly violated the terms of the confidentiality agreement that all sides agreed on.

Read the full lawsuit here

"O'Reilly portrayed himself as a 'target' and claimed the complaints against him were extortionate," the suit read. "This is false. In fact, he is a serial abuser and Ms. Bernstein's complaints about him were far from extortionate."

The April article detailed numerous settlements by O'Reilly. Bernstein alleges that Fox News, through its parent company, 21st Century Fox, falsely told The Times that it had received no complaints to an anonymous company hotline because, she contends, there wasn't a hotline while she was employed there in 2002. She also says she made repeated complaints in person to the network's human resources department and to other senior Fox News executives.

 Bill O'Reilly appears on "Today" on Sept. 19, 2017. NBC

A lawyer for Ms. Bernstein, Neil Mullin, asked that O'Reilly and Fox release all victims from their nondisclosure agreements in order to "let the truth out." Mullin's law firm, Smith Mullin, also represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who alleged she was harassed by the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.

O'Reilly has paid out more than $45 million to settle claims against him, according to The Times. In October, The Times also reported that the anchor had paid a $32 million settlement to Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and a legal analyst at the network. She accused him of forcing her into a "nonconsensual relationship."

O'Reilly made several statements to other media outlets, telling The Hollywood Reporter that "no one was mistreated on my watch," which portrayed the plaintiff as a liar, the suit alleges.

He was dropped from the network after the harassment allegations began mounting, and advertisers began exiting his show. He said in October he regretted settling sex harassment cases.

Fox News did not immediately return an email for comment. Frederic Newman, an attorney for O'Reilly, denied in a statement that his client has ever mentioned Bernstein publicly.

"And as the original New York Times story makes clear, this was absolutely not a case of sexual harassment. So today's lawsuit has absolutely no merit, and Mr. O’Reilly will respond aggressively in court," Newman said.

CORRECTION (Dec. 4, 2017, 5:07 p.m.): A previous version of the headline on this article referred incorrectly to the nature of the Bernstein case. The case involved charges of harassment, not sex harassment.

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