Bill O’Reilly sued for defamation by one of his accusers
A woman who settled with Bill O’Reilly is suing the former Fox News star and the cable network that used to employ him for defamation and breach of contract.
In a complaint filed Monday in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, attorneys for Rachel Witlieb Bernstein claim that O’Reilly and Fox News both broke a non-disparagement clause that was part of a 2002 settlement agreement.
Bernstein is being represented by Neil Mullin and Nancy Erika Smith, who represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her 2016 lawsuit against the network’s late founder and former chairman, Roger Ailes.
“Knowing Ms. Bernstein and O’Reilly’s other victims are afraid to speak out because he and Fox forced them to sign non-disclosure agreements, O’Reilly and Fox have made false and disparaging claims,” Mullin said in a statement. “They should release all victims from their NDAs and let the truth out. It is cowardly to publicly attack these women knowing they have been subjected to contractual provisions requiring absolute silence.”
Frederic S. Newman, an attorney for O’Reilly, said in a statement that the lawsuit “has absolutely no merit.” A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Monday’s lawsuit lists a series of statements issued by O’Reilly and Fox in the wake of an April story by the New York Times revealing that O’Reilly and the network paid $13 million in settlements to five women who accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Bernstein’s attorneys also pointed to O’Reilly’s response to another Times story published in October, which stated that he paid a $32 million settlement earlier this year to Lis Wiehl, a former legal analyst for Fox News.
Bernstein was one of the five women mentioned in the Times story in April, which prompted dozens of advertisers to flee O’Reilly’s top-rated Fox show and the network to eventually fire him. The story said Bernstein left Fox “with a payout and bound by a confidentiality agreement,” and that her settlement “was far less” than the others. Her complaints against O’Reilly involved verbal abuse and discrimination.
After that story ran, O’Reilly said in a statement to the Times that he is “vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” and claimed that “no one has ever filed a complaint” to human resources or called the anonymous hotline about him in his more than 20 years at Fox.
And after the Times’ latest story on an O’Reilly settlement in October, the former Fox host said he “never mistreated anyone.”
Bernstein’s attorneys say those statements, along with others from O’Reilly and Fox, violated the non-disparagement clause and represented defamation against their client by portraying her as a liar. They claim that the anonymous hotline didn’t exist, but that Bernstein did complain to Fox’s HR.
“In fact, Mr. O’Reilly is the liar,” the lawsuit says. “He mistreated Ms. Bernstein. She was forced out of her job at Fox News and paid a settlement because of his mistreatment. She did go to HR and other company executives to complain about him several times. Fox News took no action to protect plaintiff from O’Reilly. There were many witnesses to her mistreatment. She was not politically or financially motivated to raise the claims of abuse.”
Newman, O’Reilly’s attorney, said in a statement that his client “never mentioned the plaintiff’s name publicly in any context.”
“And as the original New York Times story makes clear, this was absolutely not a case of sexual harassment,” Newman said. “So today’s lawsuit has absolutely no merit, and Mr. O’Reilly will respond aggressively in court.”