Earlier this year, longtime Fox News Channel titan Bill O’Reilly was pushed out after it emerged that he’d paid over $13 million to settle claims that he’d harassed five of his former female colleagues. Since then, we’ve learned that O’Reilly had to cough up an additional $32 million to former Fox News Lis Wiehl for forcing her into a sexual relationship.
Well, one of those settlements may have just reared its head again–and we have O’Reilly’s big mouth to thank for it. One of the women with whom O’Reilly settled is taking both O’Reilly and Fox News to court, alleging that they breached the terms of the settlement by trashing her.
Back in 2002, O’Reilly paid an undisclosed settlement to former Fox News producer Rachel Witlieb to settle claims that he repeatedly harassed and berated her. Earlier in the year, multiple witnesses saw O’Reilly scream at Witlieb in the newsroom. After numerous complaints to HR went nowhere, Witlieb resigned. The settlement was reached in July, and included a confidentiality agreement and a nondisparagement clause.
Witlieb, now known as Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, claims that both O’Reilly and Fox News have breached the agreement by trashing her and questioning her motives. Read the complaint here. It contends that O’Reilly claimed his accusers made him a “target,” and that their claims were “extortionate.”
According to the lawsuit, O’Reilly began breaching the agreement while he was still on the Fox News payroll, and has breached it no fewer than four times since parting ways with the fair and balanced network, either in the press or on his new podcast, “No Spin News”–a reference to his longtime tagline on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Although not referenced in the lawsuit, O’Reilly seemingly breached the agreement when he appeared on NBC’s “Today” show in September. Watch here.
O’Reilly claims that the whole controversy was a “political and financial hit job,” and that no one ever complained about his behavior during his four decades in television news. This echoes claims that he made in October, and are referenced in the lawsuit.
It also claims that Fox News breached the agreement by falsely claiming that no one called the anonymous hotline used by parent company 21st Century Fox and its predecessor, the old News Corporation, to complain about O’Reilly. In fact, there was no hotline during Bernstein’s tenure at Fox News. She also complained to numerous Fox News executives, escalating all the way to the network’s longtime number-two man, Bill Shine.
Bernstein also contends that O’Reilly and Fox News breached the confidentiality clause of the settlement. Bernstein, O’Reilly, and Fox News all agreed that if asked about the dispute, they could say, “The matter has been resolved (or settled).” She claims that as a result of Fox News’ and O’Reilly’s actions, her reputation has been damaged, and she has lost income opportunities. She also claims to have suffered emotional and physical distress.
Bernstein’s lawyers, Neil Mullin and Nancy Erika Smith, have harshly criticized the use of nondisclosure agreements in harassment settlements, as they can be used to legally gag accusers. Mullin said that O’Reilly and Fox News made “false and disparaging claims” against O’Reilly’s victims, knowing full well that most of them would be skittish about responding when the NDAs are worded in a way that requires “absolute silence.” He called for O’Reilly and Fox News to release the victims from their NDAs.
This is reminiscent of another lawsuit from one of O’Reilly’s victims, Andrea Tantaros. She was also subject to a nondisclosure agreement, but contends Fox News breached it by telling The Daily Beast of its intent to take the matter to arbitration.
Likewise, it seems that O’Reilly and Fox News could have kept themselves out of trouble by simply using the agreed-upon language in the agreement. As it stands, it’s possible that O’Reilly and Fox News may have to pull out their checkbooks again.
(featured image courtesy O’Reilly’s Facebook)