Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, one of the six women who reportedly settled with Bill O’Reilly for workplace harassment, sued the former Fox News host on Monday.
The New York Times reports that Bernstein sued O’Reilly for defamation and breach of contract, arguing that his public statements about the settlement violated the terms of the agreement, which includes nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses. According to the lawsuit, O’Reilly has depicted her as a liar and extortionist motivated by politics.
Since Fox News cut ties with O’Reilly—just weeks after the Times published an April report detailing the numerous settlements O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox made regarding sexual harassment—he’s taken numerous occasions to question the credibility of the anonymous women and reiterate his total innocence. In a September interview with former Today host Matt Lauer, O’Reilly denied any wrongdoing, indicating that the six lawsuits were settled, at the high price of $45 million, to avoid a more expensive trial. “Every company has these lawsuits,” O’Reilly told Lauer. “If you’re a public figure, you cannot win [these] lawsuits,” he added. “Every accusation is a conviction.” O’Reilly also claimed, with little challenge from Lauer, that he never had any “interaction with HR or have complaints filed against me.”
It’s a narrative that O’Reilly has repeated on numerous occasions—including his response to the initial Times story—that mix of denial, coupled with the insinuation that the settlements were the fabulist inventions of politically-motived women. In her lawsuit, Bernstein pushed back against O’Reilly’s narrative. The Times reports:
Ms. Bernstein claims that statements made by Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News in response to the article disparaged and defamed her and violated the confidentiality clause of the settlement, which required that if asked about the dispute, the parties could respond by stating, “The matter has been resolved (or settled).”
“O’Reilly portrayed himself as a ‘target’ and claimed that complaints against him are extortionate,” Ms. Bernstein’s lawsuit said. “This is false. In fact, he is a serial abuser and Ms. Bernstein’s complaints about him were far from extortionate.”
Her lawsuit also claims that O’Reilly’s statements that no complaints were filed against him are “deliberately misleading.” Bernstein says that “repeatedly complained” to Fox News’s human resource department. Bernstein reached a settlement with Fox in 2002 after those repeated complaints. The Times notes that Bernstein did not accuse O’Reilly of sexual harassment.
In addition to her claims against O’Reilly, Bernstein’s lawsuit accuses Fox News of making a “deliberately misleading” statement regarding an employee hotline. In the Times’s April report, the news network claimed that they maintained an employee hotline and that no one had used the hotline to report O’Reilly (O’Reilly has repeated this claim as well). Bernstein refuted the existence of the hotline, her lawyer characterized Fox’s claim as a “cynical falsehood about a nonexistent hotline” that was invented “to bolster O’Reilly’s claim that the women who received settlements must have fabricated their claims or they would have complained.”
Bernstein’s suit claims emotional distress as well as reputational and financial harm.