Bill O'Reilly of Fox has been charged in a sexual harassment suit that alleges quid pro quo harassment by O'Reilly and a hostile work environment by Fox management. The complaint alleges that O'Reilly is a big fan of phone sex and includes what seem to be almost transcripts of a few phone calls. Based on reading the complaint, I'd guess that the woman filing it at the very least kept a diary or log of events, possibly recorded him, and has at least one witness to over the line propositions and talk of phone sex at dinner.
The complainant filed suit after O'Reilly filed a preemptive lawsuit, accusing her of extortion, infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful interference with contractual relations. O'Reilly claims that the woman and her lawyers tried to extort $60m in hush money from him by threatening to file the lawsuit they ultimately filed. O'Reilly admits that he had dinner and cocktails with the woman and watched a debate with her in his hotel room, but he denied any physical or sexual assaults or inappropriate touches. (Notice that there's no reference to phone sex and the aggressive sexual comments/conversations that are the heart of the harrassment suit - at least not in the reports I've seen.) O'Reilly's suit seems to imply that the woman accusing him of sexual harrassment included quotes of him that made it appear that the woman was taping O'Reilly. The implication here is that this was made up to force Fox to settle. I think.
Apparently, the woman's lawyers sent Fox management a letter referring to the alleged harrassment. The letter reads like a standard "let's settle this and avoid the public embarrassment" approach lawyers always make. I'm not sure if the charge of extortion is based on aggressive lawyering to try to get a settlement without going to court. I can certainly imagine lawyers repeatedly referencing the $60m Fox makes off the O'Reilly Factor as a way of setting the bar high for a settlement. My guess is that O'Reilly interpretedthis tactic as extortion in his own suit. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm guessing it won't hold.
As for the sexual harrassment suit, it's missing any record of the woman attempting to complain to Fox management or to follow any Fox policy on sexual harrassment, which could be a fatal flaw. I suspect, however, that her lawyers will argue that Fox itself was such a hostile environment that it was unreasonable to expect her to do so. The complaint says O'Reilly bragged about phone sex with other women who wouldn't dare tell about it so it will be interesting to see if anyone else steps forward. That would seal the deal, I'd guess.
One thing's for sure - it's gonna get messy.
Major hat tip to Smoking Gun for access to the complaint and letter.
UPDATE: Excerpts from an article in the Washington Post.
- "I knew I was going to get vilified and vile stuff was going to be put out there," O'Reilly said in a telephone interview. "It's very embarrassing to have this stuff out there. Any human being would be depressed to see this. . . . This is the worst day of my life. . . . I have to protect the people closest to me. If I have to suffer, that's the way it has to be."
- Mackris, 33, took her case to "Good Morning America" and "Today" yesterday, telling the ABC program: "There were definitely threats. I was threatened. Asked why she returned to "The O'Reilly Factor" in July, after a few months at CNN, if the earlier conversations were so offensive, Mackris said: "I came back because he agreed to not ever talk to me that way again." But then, she said, "the language was ratcheted up. He pushed the boundaries further and further from what I had established."
- In his lawsuit, announced hours before Mackris filed her litigation, O'Reilly noted that not even the producer claims any "adverse employment action" based on their relationship. He noted that Mackris told a friend at CNN in a Sept. 7 e-mail that her life at Fox was "wonderful, amazing, fun, creative, invigorating, secure, well-managed, challenging" and that she was "surrounded by really good, fun people."
- Green [O'Reilly's attorney] said Mackris had originally demanded $600 million but reduced the figure to $60 million -- the amount her lawsuit claims O'Reilly's TV show generates annually for Fox -- in settlement talks with Fox lawyers. Morelli called the two-week discussions "garden-variety negotiations."
- Green said Fox and O'Reilly are amending their lawsuit to seek court permission to fire Mackris without that being considered retaliatory action. But Morelli said it was exactly that and called the extortion accusation "garbage." "The fact that they brought a lawsuit against her and me is illegal," he said. "They're digging their own graves deeper and deeper."
- The lawsuits also have a political subtext. Morelli, a contributor to John Kerry and the Democratic Party who was once a regular on a Fox News Channel legal show, said in the lawsuit that Fox News and O'Reilly "preach the principles of so-called 'compassionate conservatism' espoused by George W. Bush and the Republican Party." In the extortion suit, Green said that by demanding quick action so late in the campaign, "Mackris and Morelli have sought to extract maximum leverage against Fox and O'Reilly right before the presidential election."
UPDATE: Click here for an update on the settlement of this charge.