The sexual-harassment lawsuit filed last year by former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros against the network’s executives has morphed into a lawsuit about the lawsuit, with Fox News now filing its own counterclaim.
Tantaros, former host of “The Five” and co-host of “Outnumbered,” filed suit in August 2016, alleging retaliation after she had taken exception to inappropriate remarks directed to her by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Ailes died earlier this month.
“Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” she stated in her declaration.
Tantaros is reportedly seeking as much as $23 million and an additional $26 million in punitive damages, plus attorney fees.
She also named Ailes successor Bill Shine and PR executive Irena Briganti in her original complaint, charging attempts had been made to intimidate her. She accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment.
Last month, Tantaros filed a second action, accusing Fox News of a campaign of harassment and “digital character assassination,” using online social-media “sockpuppets,” whose “coded” comments, she claimed, showed she had been hacked by the network.
Fox News lawyers fired back Wednesday with their own countersuit, calling Tantaros’ new claims a “hoax” and seeking sanctions against her attorney, saying he had falsely accused Fox News of criminal conduct “to generate negative headlines for, and inflict maximum damage on, Fox News.”
“The allegations in the Complaint are not just false, they are outrageously and flagrantly so,” read the filing.
“The allegations of the Complaint read like the plot of a television drama: Plaintiff Andrea Tantaros claims that her then-employer, Fox News Network, LLC (“Fox News”), hacked her laptop computer, tapped her telephone, and then tortured her with the information gathered from those acts by sending her coded messages through a ‘sockpuppet’ social-media account. But pleadings in federal court are not supposed to be works of fiction; they must be grounded in fact,” the document states.
Specifically, Fox News is going after Tantaros attorney Judd Burstein, accusing him of violating ethical responsibilities by perpetuating a “hoax” on the court.
“There are only two possibilities: Burstein either knew this and filed the Complaint maliciously or, if he did not, he failed to fulfill his basic professional obligations … to investigate his client’s claims,” the motion states.
The network is asking for “a substantial monetary award,” and dismissal of Tantaros’ complaint, with a requested referral of Burstein to the New York Rules of Professional Conduct. The motion cited case law on litigation abuse to ask that any future action by Tantaros be barred from the courts and referred to arbitration.
Saying Tantaros’ latest filing qualifies for sanctions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures, which penalizes attorneys for actions that are frivolous, lack supporting evidence or are filed to harass, Fox News attorneys took a final swipe at Burstein.
“Mr. Burstein, who has already been chastised by the state court in this dispute, simply seeks to divert attention from his baseless federal complaint by misstating the facts. Our motion for sanctions, supported by indisputable sworn statements and documentary evidence as well as overwhelming judicial authority, speaks for itself.”