Former Fox News employee's suit accuses former anchorman of rape

Signage is seen at the Fox News offices after it was announced that news anchor Shepard Smith had quit the network in New York City, US, October 11, 2019. [Reuters]

Former Fox News employee Jennifer Eckhart filed a lawsuit on Monday in a New York federal court against Fox News and former network anchor Ed Henry, accusing him of raping her.

The complaint says Henry "groomed, psychologically manipulated and coerced into having a sexual relationship with him, and that, when she would not comply voluntarily, he sexually assaulted her on office property, and raped her at a hotel."

In a statement on Henry's behalf, his lawyer Catherine Foti said evidence would show that Eckhart "initiated and completely encouraged a consensual relationship."

In a separate statement, a Fox News spokeswoman said Eckhart and co-plaintiff Cathy Areu, a network guest, can pursue their claims against Henry directly with him, as the network "already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart's claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network."

The cable news network, owned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp , said on July 1 it had dismissed Henry after receiving a complaint from the lawyer of a former employee and retained a law firm to investigate.

The complaint alleges the network knew Henry had engaged in sexual misconduct as far back as early 2017.

The Fox News spokeswoman said in a later statement on Monday: "There were not sexual harassment claims against Ed Henry at Fox News prior to Jennifer Eckhart's claim on June 25, 2020."

Areu alleges Henry sent her "a slew of wildly inappropriate sexual images and videos" and suggested he would assist her career if she had sex with him.

Areu also alleges that Fox News anchors Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, host Howard Kurtz and political analyst Gianno Caldwell sexually harassed and retaliated against Areu.

Asked to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, Foti said: "Ed Henry looks forward to presenting actual facts and evidence, which will contradict the fictional accounts contained in the complaint."

In its statement the network said that based on an outside law firm's investigation that included interviews with numerous witnesses, it was determined that Areu's claims against the network, its management, Carlson, Hannity, Kurtz and Caldwell are "false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit."

Reuters was not immediately able to reach Carlson, Hannity, Kurtz or Caldwell but Fox News said its statement was a response on behalf of all four men. Eckhart was an associate producer at Fox Business Network.

In 2016, Roger Ailes resigned as chairman and chief executive of Fox News after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment, charges he denied.

The network agreed to pay $20 million to settle Carlson's lawsuit.