On Monday, former Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes filed a lawsuit against Fox News, claiming the network blacklisted her after she accused Making Money host Charles Payne of rape.
Hughes never worked at Fox News, but she frequently appeared on the network as a commentator between 2013 and 2016. According to her complaint, she first met Payne in the spring of 2013. In July of the same year, the suit states, Payne "pressured his way" into Hughes' hotel room while both were staying in New York City to appear on a Fox program, saying he wanted to "speak privately." In the room, he allegedly raped Hughes despite her repeated protests.
"You know you want this," he said, according to the suit. "You've been teasing me since that first time on set, wearing those short dresses over those long legs with your big boobs hanging out." She claims she pushed back, telling him she only "wanted to be friends." This infuriated him, according to the suit, and he "tightened his grip on her." (Payne's lawyer denies these allegations, calling them "baseless" and "outrageous.")
Hughes's appearances on Fox "increased dramatically" in wake of the alleged rape, according to the suit; after the alleged assault, the suit states, Payne pointed to other "relationships" between male Fox News hosts and their female employees as evidence that Hughes should have an ongoing sexual relationship with him. Women, he allegedly claimed, needed a male host to "go to bat" for them. He also allegedly warned her of the fate of Andrea Mackris, whose career opportunities evaporated after she sued Bill O'Reilly for sexual harassment in the notorious "falafel lawsuit."
Until the summer of 2015, Hughes and Payne allegedly had a sexual relationship, which the suit characterizes as inherently imbalanced. "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 says. "Payne used his position of power to pressure Ms. Hughes into submission."
Whenever Hughes attempted to sever a relationship with Payne, the lawsuit alleges he would burst into anger, grabbing her "in such a way that bruises were left on her arms." "Get the fuck out of my office," he allegedly yelled one day, "if you think someone else can get you the contributorship!"
Shortly after Hughes claims she ended her relationship with Payne, "on or around" June 2015, Payne's wife allegedly contacted then-Fox News co-president Bill Shine, begging him to stop Hughes from appearing on the network. Hughes went from regularly commentating on Fox News four to five times a week to only going on The O'Reilly Factor five times in a 10-month period.
Hughes spent the fall of 2016 on competing network CNN as a paid contributor, but CNN declined to renew her contract in January. A source close to Hughes believes she was blacklisted throughout the industry. In the spring of 2017, according to the suit, a source told Hughes' booker that contacts at other networks had been informed that Hughes "had an affair with someone at Fox," and they "were told not to book her."
In June of 2017, Hughes confidentially contacted lawyers at Paul Weiss, the outside firm Fox had hired to conduct "internal investigations" following a high-profile spate of sexual harassment allegations. She wanted to report Payne, as well as what she viewed as retaliation by the network, the suit says.
On June 26, Dianne Brandi, Fox News's general counsel, allegedly called Hughes's manager, questioning him about his client's claims. He refused to answer her questions. A mere four to five hours later, the suit claims, a National Enquirer reporter called to ask for comment to ask for a story about Hughes's sexual relationship with Payne.
"Shockingly, Ms. Hughes's manager learned that Irena Briganti, executive vice president of corporate communications at Fox, leaked Ms. Hughes's identity to the reporter," the suit says. "Worse, to support Fox's self-serving spin, Briganti also leaked a prepared statement and 'apology' by Payne that described the relationship as a 'consensual affair.'" (AMI, which owns the Enquirer, declined to comment.)
Although the Enquirer did not explicitly name Hughes, a subsequent Huffington Post story did. "The story was reported on for days, nationally and internationally," the suit states. "Ms. Hughes endured horrific humiliation and criticism." According to Hughes and her lawyer, this was both an act of retaliation and an attempt by "the Fox PR machine" to make the public think Hughes and Payne "were simply consenting adults in an ordinary affair."
"My complaint speaks for itself," Hughes explained in a statement. "What is most important to me is that justice will prevent other women from going through the nightmare I'm now living. On my behalf, [my legal team] will expose Fox's unconscionable conduct, including leaking my name to the media. I am grateful to my husband, family, friends, and colleagues for the outpouring of love and support."
In a statement to Broadly, a Fox News spokesperson harshly dismissed Hughes' lawsuit. "The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by [Hughes's attorney] Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful," the spokesperson said. "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."
Payne's lawyer, Jonathan Halpern, also denied all the allegations in a statement. "My client Charles Payne vehemently denies any wrongdoing and will defend himself vigorously against this baseless complaint," he 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."
Doug Wigdor, Hughes' lawyer, called Fox's accusation that Hughes had been shopping for a lawyer "another desperate attempt at avoiding the real issue and changing the victim," adding that one of the "representatives" the network named was her agent. "Fox cannot spin its way out of this crisis—especially when only Fox is to blame for what happened," he said in a statement. "Regardless of the fact that the sexual assault and rape, as alleged, happened in 2013, the events exposing Fox's liability… occurred less than two months ago, when Fox executives at the highest levels leaked Ms. Hughes's name to a tabloid."
When Broadly called Hughes, she did not pick up. She had chosen a custom ringback: the House of Cards theme song.