An attorney for the woman who accused former Fox News host Ed Henry of sexual assault has called his alleged conduct ‘Weinstein-esque, but worse’ in a court hearing.
Lawyers for Jennifer Eckhart, a former associate producer for Fox Business Network, made the claims at a hearing on Wednesday in US District Court in Manhattan, where they battled to keep her suit against Fox News alive in the face of motions to dismiss.
The suit filed last year, several weeks after Henry was fired from the network, alleges that Fox News violated federal sex-trafficking laws, requiring Eckhart to show Fox knew or should have known that Henry coerced her into a commercial sex act.
Henry has always denied her claims, insisting they had a consensual relationship, and Fox News has said that Henry was ‘promptly terminated’ as soon as the network became aware of any sexual misconduct allegations against him.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Eckhart’s lawyer Michael John Willemin made the comparison to rapist Harvey Weinstein during oral arguments, claiming that Henry forced Eckhart to have oral sex, handcuffed her to a hotel bed, beat her and left her bloodied, according to Law & Crime.
Lawyers for Jennifer Eckhart (left) fought to keep her lawsuit against Fox News alive at a hearing on Wednesday, reiterating her sexual assault claims against Ed Henry (right)
‘He hit her,’ Willemin said, repeating the allegation in the complaint. ‘He handcuffed her. He bruised her up. He called her a ‘wh**e.’ He told her she doesn’t have a choice.’
Eckhart’s suit cited her claim that Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman told her at the time: ‘Everyone at Fox News knows that Henry is a sex addict. That’s no secret.’
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams probed Eckart’s allegation that her fear of losing her job or promotions made the alleged sexual assault commercial in nature.
‘Why should Fox not have known that Mr. Henry was essentially exchanging empty promises for sex?’ the judge asked an attorney for Fox News.
‘Why is promising someone to get into a place with very important people who can benefit their career not a thing of value?’ Abrams later asked.
Fox News, in their motion to dismiss, called Eckhart’s claim against the network ‘meritless.’
‘Eckhart does not allege any facts showing that Fox News knew about Henry’s alleged abuse beforehand, or even that the company could have known,’ the motion argues.
A statement from Fox News CEO Scott and President Jay Wallace on July 1, 2020
Fox’s lawyer Kathleen M. McKenna argued that allegations in 2016 that Henry had an extramarital affair with a Las Vegas stripper were not sufficient to put the network on notice for potential workplace misconduct.
‘That was non-work behavior, whatever one thinks of it,’ McKenna argued. Fox acknowledges suspending Henry for four months after his alleged affair became public.
Jennifer Eckhart claimed in a lawsuit that Henry ‘violently raped her’
Judge Abrams grilled Eckhart’s attorney about the significance of the stripper incident, asking whether Henry having an affair or allegedly being put into treatment for a sex addiction should have put Fox on notice that he would harass employees.
‘They should have had a heightened awareness to pay attention,’ Willemin replied, insisting that the stripper incident was ‘just the beginning.’
Judge Henry has not yet ruled on the motions to dismiss filed by Fox News, Henry, and other parties to the case.
Earlier this month, Henry filed suit against NPR, CNN and three of their journalists – Brian Stelter, Alisyn Camerota and David Folkenflik – for how they reported Eckhart’s rape allegations against him.
He has always denied her claims, insisting they had a consensual relationship. He says he was fired instead to distract the public from CEO Suzanne Scott ‘covering up’ an alleged affair that the company president, Jay Wallace, was having with an employee.
Fox said in a statement to DailyMail.com that it conducted a ‘full and independent investigation of the claims against Jay Wallace’ and ‘he was cleared of any wrongdoing and the allegations are false.’
Henry also sued Scott earlier this month for defamation for painting him as a ‘sex criminal’ and now he has also sued CNN, NPR and the three journalists for how they reported the story back in July 2020.
He tweeted a link to the lawsuit and promised it wouldn’t be the last.
In a statement, Fox told DailyMail.com at the time: ‘As we stated one year ago, FOX News Media conducted a thorough independent investigation into Ed Henry immediately after we were made aware of a serious misconduct claim against him by a former employee. Based on the results of those findings, we promptly terminated Mr. Henry’s employment for willful sexual misconduct and stand by the decision entirely.’
Ed Henry has filed his own lawsuit against Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott (above), claiming she ‘defamed him as a sex criminal’
‘We are fully prepared to vigorously defend against these baseless allegations as Mr. Henry further embarrasses himself in a lawsuit rife with inaccuracies after driving his personal life into the ground with countless extramarital affairs in a desperate attempt for relevance and redemption,’ the company added.
The statement continued: ‘Under the leadership of CEO Suzanne Scott, FOX News Media has worked tirelessly to transform the company culture, implementing annual, mandatory in-person harassment prevention training, creating an entirely new reporting structure, more than tripling the size of our HR footprint, conducting quarterly company meetings and mentoring events, as well as executing a zero tolerance policy regarding workplace misconduct for which we engage outside independent firms to handle investigations.’
Eckhart’s lawsuit claims that Henry ‘preyed upon, manipulated and groomed Ms Eckhart starting at the young age of 24 by exerting his abuse of power over her and her career’.
It claims he first began flirting with her in 2014 after she had graduated and that although she was ‘not romantically interested’ in him, she joined him for a drink after he persisted in his advances.
Eckkhart’s lawsuit includes a string of WhatsApp messages Henry, 49, allegedly sent to Eckhart in which he calls her his ‘little w***e’ and refers to their relationship in graphic terms
Former Fox News anchor Ed Henry is pictured with his wife Shirley
She claims Henry invited her to his New York Marriott Marquis hotel room, ‘ripped off her clothes’ and she had sex with him ‘fearing that her career would be over if she refused.’
Eckhart claims that Henry forced her to perform oral sex on him in a guest office in the New York City offices in September 2015.
‘When she would not comply voluntarily, he sexually assaulted her on office property, and raped her at a hotel where Fox News frequently lodged its visiting employees, thereby facilitating, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Mr. Henry’s conduct,’ the lawsuit states.
Eckhart’s suit included numerous text messages allegedly from Henry, including messages from Valentine’s Day 2017: ‘F**k you and your safe word,’ followed by ‘You will know when I’m done.’
Henry alleges that the messages were cherrypicked and taken out of context, and submitted a court filing including his own screenshots of salacious text messages and lewd photos that Eckhart allegedly sent him.