Conservative commentator Scottie Nell Hughes is suing 21st Century Fox, Fox News, two Fox News executive vice presidents, and Fox Business host Charles Payne for what she describes as a campaign of gender-motivated violence, discrimination, retaliation, and defamation at Fox. Hughes alleges that Payne raped her in 2013 and coerced her into a sexual relationship afterward, while threatening her career at the network if she left him. The network later blacklisted Hughes over the relationship, she says in the lawsuit, and when she reported the rape to Fox in June 2017, the network allegedly retaliated against her, leaking details of her “affair” with Payne in the media.
Hughes and Payne made multiple appearances together on Fox programs in 2013, during which time Payne allegedly expressed interest in advancing Hughes’ career, she says in her lawsuit. But during one encounter at Fox’s Manhattan headquarters, Payne pressured Hughes into telling him her hotel room number so that he could have a private conversation, according to the lawsuit.
Once inside Hughes’ hotel room, Payne allegedly assaulted her, telling her “you know you want this” and accusing her of trying to get his attention on set “with your big boobs hanging out,” according to Hughes’ lawsuit.
During the alleged rape, Payne implied that that her response could have an effect on her career, Hughes says. “You have a bright future but you’re not acting like you have the priorities I thought you did,” he allegedly said.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Payne’s lawyer Jonathan Halpern denied Hughes’ allegations. “My client Charles Payne vehemently denies any wrongdoing and will defend himself vigorously against this baseless complaint,” Halpern said. “We are confident that when the evidence is presented in this case, Mr. Payne will be fully vindicated and these outrageous accusations against him will be confirmed as completely false.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Fox News also denied Hughes’ allegations, and accused her lawyer Doug Wigdor of filing a “bogus” suit. “The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful,” the network said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend this. It’s worth noting that Doug is Ms. Hughes’ third representative in the last six months to raise some variation of these claims which concern events from four years ago, since it apparently took some time to find someone willing to file this bogus case.”
After the alleged assault, Payne invited Hughes onto his program more frequently and encouraged other hosts to do the same, Hughes alleges. Payne allegedly coerced Hughes into a sexual relationship against her will, through a combination of managerial authority and “angry outbursts” when she tried to cut her ties with him, she says in the lawsuit.
Multiple times when Hughes tried to end the relationship, Payne grabbed her, leaving bruises on her arms, she alleges. On another occasion, he allegedly implied that she would not land a Fox contributorship if she left him. “Get the fuck out of my office… if you think someone else can get you the contributorship!” he allegedly shouted at her.
By June 2015, Hughes cut off the relationship for good, she says in the lawsuit. Payne allegedly threatened her career, telling her that her future appearances on Fox depended on continuing the relationship. When Hughes refused, she alleges, her Fox appearances dropped from four or five a week to five across 10 months. All the remaining appearances were on The O’Reilly Factor. And those appearances dried up after Payne’s wife allegedly contacted former Fox co-president Bill Shine to complain about Hughes’ relationship with Payne, Hughes says in the lawsuit.
Eventually, Hughes learned that the network had blacklisted her over her rape allegation, she claims. In spring 2017, a Fox employee allegedly told Hughes’ booker that Hughes had “had an affair with someone at Fox and we were told not to book her,’” according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Fox was reeling from other sexual misconduct allegations, which had led to the resignation of the network’s top talent, including former host Bill O’Reilly and former CEO Roger Ailes. The network retained a lawyer to handle its internal investigation into the widespread allegations. Hughes contacted one of the lawyer’s partners on June 22, 2017, to describe the alleged rape and her subsequent blacklisting, she claims. The lawyer allegedly advised Hughes to address the alleged rape internally, rather than through a formal investigation.
But negotiations with Fox execs went sour when one allegedly called Hughes’ manager to interrogate him about details of the alleged assault, she says in the lawsuit. “Approximately four to five hours later,” the manager received another call, this time from a National Enquirer reporter who was writing a story about an alleged affair between Hughes and Payne, Hughes’ lawsuit alleges.
Hughes’ manager allegedly learned that Irena Briganti, Fox’s executive vice president of corporate communications, had leaked the story and that Briganti had also allegedly prepared an apology statement from Payne that described his relationship with Hughes as a “consensual affair,” according to the lawsuit.
“I would like to extend an apology to my family and friends for having been involved in a romantic affair that ended two years ago,” Payne said in a statement to the National Enquirer. In July, sexually explicit emails from Hughes to Payne would also leak online.
Hughes alleges in the lawsuit that the emails were not part of a consensual relationship because Payne was using his position of authority to pressure Hughes.
“While there are admittedly, many emails that Fox and Payne will no doubt use to suggest that a consensual relationship existed after the July 2013 sexual violence, describing what happened here as simply an ‘affair’ or ‘consensual relationship’ is misleading and wrong,” the suit reads.
Fox suspended Payne in July pending an investigation into Hughes’ case but allowed him back on the air in September. Hughes claims his return is business as usual at Fox.
“This is the modus operandi at Fox,” her suit alleges.
“As seen in the cases involving Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, when Fox confirms that male executives have committed abhorrent wrongs, it opts to exit them with mega severance packages in the tens of millions of dollars while the true victims are left to fight their battles in the court system, only to have their confidential monetary demands land in media reports in a further attempt to ridicule and intimidate them.”