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Fox News, CEO Beat Ailes Accuser’s Defamation, Privacy Suit

Nov. 8, 2019, 2:57 PM

A former employee who allegedly suffered years of sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of late Fox News Network LLC head Roger Ailes can’t sue for defamation or invasion of privacy based on statements the cable TV network’s new CEO made in a Los Angeles Times interview, a federal judge in Washington ruled.

Laura Willis Luhn failed to show any of Suzanne Gunderson Scott’s comments in the April 2019 article related to Luhn or Luhn’s allegations against Ailes, the court said Nov. 7. Her amended complaint only pointed to two statements from the interview, where Scott said she “had no knowledge of Ailes’ behavior even though she was part of his inner circle” and that she “had no clue on what was going on in Roger Ailes’ office,” the court said.

Both comments “pertained exclusively to Scott and her own mental state” and didn’t mention or relate to Luhn, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich said. That Luhn later publicly challenged the accuracy of Scott’s statements, or had made contradictory statements herself before the article was published, didn’t change the content of Scott’s remarks, the judge said.

Affidavits submitted by two Hollywood producers stating that they understood Scott’s comments as referring to Luhn likewise didn’t “change the analysis” of Luhn’s defamation or privacy claims against Fox and Scott, the court said. To prove defamation, defamation by implication, or false light invasion of privacy, there must be evidence that the statements in question were “of or concerning” the plaintiff, it said. That’s judged from the viewpoint of a “hypothetical reasonable reader,” not the subjective take of actual readers, the court said.

Luhn’s defamation claims also failed because Scott’s statements in the article weren’t defamatory, Friedrich said. A reasonable reader couldn’t interpret the two statements identified by Luhn as presenting her in a false or negative light, such as by suggesting she fabricated her allegations against Ailes. And other comments Scott made in the article “reflect her apparent belief” in Luhn’s allegations and those later made by other Fox employees against Ailes, the judge said.

Luhn worked for Fox starting in 1996. She reported her allegations against Ailes to the U.S. attorney general’s office in 2011 and subsequently settled those claims, the court said.

Klayman Law Group P.A. represented Luhn. Jones Day represented Fox and Scott.

The case is Luhn v. Scott, 2019 BL 428787, D.D.C., No. 19-cv-01180, 11/7/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com