Laura Luhn, a former booker at Fox News, is suing the network’s late former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and blackmail, while also suing former co-president Bill Shine for abetting the alleged abuse and the network parent company 21st Century Fox for negligence.
Luhn is filing the suit under the Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims. Ailes, who died in 2017, stepped down the year before his death from leading the controversial news Fox News. Ahead of his exit from the network he founded, several women had come forward—including anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly—with sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against him. Shine resigned in 2017 in a flurry of allegations that he played the cover-up man to Ailes’ behavior.
The Adult Survivors Act is a new law that re-opens the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in New York, even if the victim was an adult at the time of the abuse. This means that victims can take decades-old claims of abuse to court. And the introduction of the act has led to some very high-profile cases being filed in The Empire State.
In December, a fresh lawsuit was filed in New York by five women against Bill Cosby, NBC Universal Media, Kaufman Astoria Studios, and the Carsey-Werner Company. The women allege Cosby either raped them or forced them to engage in sexual acts in incidents they say took place years ago. That same month, former Elle advice columnist E. Jean Carroll used the ASA to bring a suit against then-President Donald Trump. Carroll says that Trump sexually assaulted her in the dressing room of a department store in New York City in the mid-1990s.
Luhn initially met Ailes while at George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign headquarters in 1988. Years later, he hired her at Ailes Communications, his company at the time. Luhn had no idea, she says, that she’d be plunged into what she says was an abusive and sadomasochistic relationship with the media mogul. According to Luhn, she was forced to perform oral sex on Ailes frequently; she says that he referred to her as his “sex slave,” requiring her to wear black garters and stockings, and claims in the suit that there were hotel-room meetings where Ailes stated he could do what he wanted to her—and she claims he videotaped the alleged attacks, telling her he planned on keeping the compromising video in a safe, “so we understand each other.”
“Roger Ailes used his position as the head of Fox News to trap Laura W. Luhn in a decades-long cycle of sexual abuse,” reads the filing. “To ensure her compliance and public silence, Ailes photographed and videotaped Luhn in compromising positions—blackmail material that he explicitly described as his ‘insurance policy’—and made clear to Luhn that any attempt to speak out or stop the abuse would result in severe personal humiliation and career ruin.”
Yet Ailes took Luhn with him to Fox News when it launched, and according to the filing, she was excited about the professional opportunity, taking the job because she believed Ailes would keep things professional; she didn’t think ‘another assault would happen or be a condition of her employment.'”
However, Luhn alleges that the sexual abuse was a major condition of her work at Fox News, and that, in fact, the situation worsened. Not only did Ailes force Luhn to perform oral sex on him in his office in 2005, but, according to the filing, “the most traumatic incidents of abuse happened when Ailes forced Luhn to engage in sadomasochistic sex with Ailes and another woman.” Luhn alleges that this happened not once, but five times between 2002 and 2005.
As other women at Fox News made allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the filing, they were shooed away by HR with explanations that “boys will be boys;” Luhn alleges Ailes told her that he was in “complete control of the Human Resources department.”
“Eventually, the years of abuse led to Luhn suffering a mental breakdown,” the complaint states. “During the breakdown—of which Fox News was well aware—Ailes’s hatchet man, Defendant Shine, took it upon himself to control Luhn’s personal life, manage her medical care, and ensure her public silence about the sexual abuse.”
Luhn says she wrote a letter about the abuse to Fox News’ general counsel and eventually came to a settlement with the company. While the Adult Survivors Act doesn’t cover claims that had previously been settled, Luhn says she was forced into a subpar deal at the time.
Her suit against Fox News and 21st Century Fox is for negligence and unlawful discriminatory practices. The latter argues that Ailes and the company’s alleged conduct was due to her gender. She is suing Shine for aiding and abetting unlawful discriminatory practices. The compensatory and punitive damages Luhn seeks in the suits have yet to be announced.
In an email to LAMag, Fox News public relations said, “This matter was settled years ago, dismissed in subsequent litigation, and is meritless.”
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