Federal judge rules against Fox News bid to stop suit by ex-pundit who says she was raped

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that 21st Century Fox must defend a lawsuit by former guest Scottie Nell Hughes, who claims she was banned from the network after reporting she was raped by Fox Business host Charles Payne.

Hughes, a conservative political commentator and former CNN contributor during the 2016 presidential campaign, sued Fox News on Sept. 19, 2017. In her suit, Hughes alleges that Payne had raped her in a New York City hotel room in 2013.

She also charges that the network retaliated by blacklisting her from the network after she reported she was attacked.

“In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne,” Hughes told The New York Times in September. “In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.”

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According to Hughes's lawsuit, Payne also promised career opportunities in exchange for a sexual relationship with Hughes. Hughes claims the relationship lasted over the two years following the alleged rape.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III denied a bid by 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News and Fox Business, to stop Hughes's lawsuit from going to court.

Pauley wrote in his opinion that since Hughes was an unpaid guest and not a paid contributor, she "may not be considered under the financial benefit analysis."

"If such allegations were deemed a financial benefit for purposes of determining employee status, virtually every commentator on a national television network could satisfy the remuneration requirement," Pauley wrote in his opinion. "In any event, an incidental benefit of appearing on a nationally televised program is widespread publicity and name recognition, and may not be considered under the financial benefit analysis."

Pauley also dismissed Hughes's claims of discrimination and defamation, adding that she failed to allege malice and damages in any tangible way.

The judge also ruled against a violence claim by Hughes against Payne, as well as an allegation that the alleged attack was motivated by gender.

Payne was suspended in July 2017 but returned to hosting his program, "Making Money" on Fox Business, in September following an internal investigation.

The network called the lawsuit a "publicity stunt" last September and "downright shameful."

“The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful. We will vigorously defend this," a Fox News spokesperson said at the time. 

"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," the spokesperson added. 

Fox News has seen several major changes since July 2016, when former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was removed from the network two weeks after former host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against him alleging sexual harassment. 
 
The 77-year-old Ailes died in April 2017. 

Bill O'Reilly, a top-rated host on cable news for 15 years, parted ways with the network one year ago after a New York Times report revealed payments of $13 million to five women who accused O'Reilly of sexual harassment.
 
Updated: 7:24 p.m.