A former Fox News employee who previously came forward with sickening accusations of sexual servitude against Roger Ailes is suing the network, its parent company, and a former producer who worked in the Trump White House.
Laura Luhn, who in 2021 told The Daily Beast that Fox’s lawyers were trying to intimidate her, filed her lawsuit Wednesday in New York state court, detailing the decades of sexual abuse and assault she says she suffered under the late Fox executive.
“Ailes’s abuse of Luhn was among the worst he inflicted on his many victims,” the complaint says. “At their very first encounter, Ailes set the stage by blackmailing Luhn and taking videos of her performing coerced sex acts. He physically forced Luhn to perform oral sex on him regularly. And he constantly reminded Luhn that he ‘owned’ her, that she was his ‘sex slave,’ and that she was forbidden from telling anyone about the abuse or he would make her pay dearly.”
Luhn’s complaint lists Fox News Network and Twenty-First Century Fox as defendants, along with William Shine, a Fox producer and executive who had a short-lived turn as former President Trump’s White House communications chief. The suit is among the latest to be filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which opened a one-year window for adult victims to file claims regardless of the statute of limitations. It’s resulted in new lawsuits against Jeffrey Epstein’s estate, billionaire Leon Black, Bill Cosby, and Trump.
According to Luhn’s filing, Ailes used his position of power to “trap” her “in a decades-long cycle of sexual abuse.” And to ensure her compliance, the complaint adds, “Ailes photographed and videotaped Luhn in compromising positions—blackmail material that he explicitly described as his ‘insurance policy’—and made clear to Luhn that any attempt to speak out or stop the abuse would result in severe personal humiliation and career ruin.”
Barbara Whiten Balliette, an attorney for Luhn and partner at Reid Collins & Tsai LLP, told The Daily Beast in a statement: “The abuse that Ms. Luhn suffered was some of the worst imaginable. People knew, but no one at Fox News stepped in to stop it. Her career and her life were destroyed. The Adult Survivors Act was created to redress wrongs exactly like these.”
The suit alleges Fox News corporate higher-ups “knew of Ailes’s conduct (and similar conduct of Fox News’s on-air talent) yet did nothing to stop it.” Instead, the filing claims, executives embarked on public smear campaigns to intimidate victims like Luhn and bully them into silence. Luhn says she suffered a mental breakdown over the abuse, and that Shine was tasked with taking over her personal life and medical care and preventing her from speaking out.
As a result of Shine’s tactics, the complaint says, Luhn signed a “release” of her claims and received a severance equivalent to her wages until retirement.
“In the period when Ailes was abusing her, Luhn had a front-row seat to the very public intimidation campaign that Fox News waged against another victim after she lodged disturbing allegations against Fox News star, Bill O’Reilly. In private conversations with Luhn, Ailes explicitly reinforced the message that this public campaign was designed to convey to Luhn and other would-be accusers: come forward at your own peril,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Luhn began working at Fox News as a guest relations staffer when the network launched in 1996, rising to senior director of corporate and special events in 2007. She stayed in that role until mid-2011, the complaint says.
“Ailes should never have been in a position of power at Fox News or anywhere else,” the filing states. “His sexual misconduct did not begin at Fox; Ailes had been harassing women for years and pressuring them into engaging in nonconsensual sexual conduct by holding career opportunities over their heads since at least the early 1980s.”
Luhn says that Ailes “used his proximity to the political elite and the news media to take advantage of Luhn’s professional interest in those fields.” When they met in Washington, D.C., at George H.W. Bush’s campaign headquarters, Luhn was 28 and Ailes was close to 50; the lawsuit says she was eager to work with and learn from him.
Before hiring her at his firm Ailes Communications, the lawsuit says, Ailes “groomed Luhn by asking her deeply personal questions about her family and childhood at her very first job interview” in order to “manipulate her.” (The suit notes that Gretchen Carlson’s own complaint against Ailes in 2016 prompted other women to share similar “grooming” stories.)
In January 1991, a few months into Luhn’s job, Ailes allegedly called her to a Marriott hotel in Virginia for a meeting that would become the first episode of abuse.
“Ahead of the meeting, Ailes demanded that Luhn wear a black garter and stockings, calling it her ‘uniform,’ the lawsuit says. “When she arrived, Ailes told Luhn to dance for him. She was resistant. But this did not stop Ailes.
“His manipulation of her began immediately when he tied her compliance to her job security, saying, ‘Laurie, if you’re gonna be my girl, my eyes and ears, if you are going to be someone I can depend on in Washington, my spy, come on, dance for me.’”
Luhn says that she complied, as she was “feeling pressured by one of the most powerful men in the world and unsure of what to do.” Ailes allegedly videotaped her. After Ailes further threatened her, Luhn performed oral sex on him, the complaint says.
“Afterwards, Ailes showed Luhn the footage of her dancing,” the lawsuit continues. “When she asked him what he was going to do with it, he replied, ‘I am going to put it in a safe-deposit box just so we understand each other.’ He would go on to refer to this and other photos and videos of Luhn as his ‘insurance.’”
“From this moment on, Luhn believed that she had no choice but to do as Ailes commanded her, or risk losing her safety, her career, her reputation, and her personal relationships,” the filing alleges. “Luhn knew she was trapped.”
Ailes would later recruit Luhn to work at Fox, leading to “repeated and habitual” abuse at hotels in New York. “From time to time, I’m going to ask you to do things and I’m going to expect you to meet me and put on your uniform,” Ailes allegedly told her.
“Ailes already had compromising videos of Luhn,” the lawsuit alleges, “and his large presence and demeanor (he would yell and threaten Luhn if she stepped out of line), led Luhn to believe that failure to comply would result in disastrous consequences both for her career and her personal life.”
While Luhn worked in Fox’s D.C. bureau, Ailes routinely summoned her to New York. Sometimes, the lawsuit says, he had Shine or former senior vice president Kim Hume call her to the city under the guise of a “booking meeting.” Ailes advised Luhn to book her own rooms at hotels that weren’t used by Fox News employees and to expense them.
The complaint further describes Ailes’ degrading conduct in these hotel rooms, including his commanding of Luhn, “Bring an envelope to make it look like you’re on official business” and “Come here and show me what you can do.”
The lawsuit adds in graphic detail: “He would also shove Luhn’s head into his crotch and yell, ‘What are you, Laurie? Go on, say it. Tell me what you are! Are you my whore? Are you my sex slave? Are you loyal? Can I depend on you, Laurie?’”
After promoting Luhn to booking manager in June 2004, the filing alleges, Ailes advised her, “Now, remember, you’re Doris Day. Go put your uniform on, get over to the DoubleTree and thank me for this.” The network honcho told Luhn that if she betrayed a hint of hesitation during their encounters, it could jeopardize her career.
The suit alleges that Ailes’ pattern of abuse involved him masturbating while grabbing Luhn’s breasts or while she danced. He is also accused of routinely forcing her to perform oral sex. On one occasion in 2005, the complaint alleges, Ailes coerced Luhn into performing oral sex on him in his second-floor Fox News office after his assistants had left for the day.
“But the most traumatic incidents of abuse happened when Ailes forced Luhn to engage in sadomasochistic sex with Ailes and another woman,” the lawsuit says. “At least five times between 2002 and 2005—including three at the Renaissance Times Square and two at the Omni Berkshire—Ailes had another woman meet him and Luhn in a New York City hotel room.”
During these incidents, Ailes allegedly photographed and videotaped Luhn performing oral sex on the unnamed woman while violently egging her on, yelling, “Get in there, Laurie!” During one encounter in November 2005, the lawsuit says, the woman brought a flesh-colored dildo, which Ailes used to sexually assault Luhn.
“All the while,” the lawsuit continues. “Ailes held the photographs and videos he had of Luhn over her head, at various times describing them as his ‘insurance policy,’ telling Luhn that he kept them in a safe-deposit box and reminding Luhn of his ‘loyalty requirement’ and the fact that he ‘owned’ her.”
The lawsuit says that Fox executives routinely worked to blacklist women who came forward with allegations of harassment or abuse. When Luhn reported harassment from “a well-known political analyst,” Hume allegedly told her, “Boys will be boys. Bill Clinton is the same way.”
According to Luhn, Ailes warned her that if she spoke out, Fox News would target her as it had Andrea Mackris, who accused Bill O’Reilly of harassment in 2004. “Moreover, Ailes told Luhn that he was in complete control of the Human Resources department, and that they reported to him,” the complaint adds. “In fact, he promoted his very own assistant, Brigette Boyle, to Director of Human Resources, so that he could keep close tabs on all the goings on at Fox News.”
In 2007, the lawsuit says, Fox and Ailes were concerned Luhn would go public with her story and “began a character assassination of [her] in the media.” Luhn was soon reassigned out of the booking department and told that rumors about her ties to Ailes prompted the move.
Luhn had a mental breakdown soon after this, and Ailes allegedly encouraged her to sell her D.C. apartment and move to New York. He also allegedly insisted she cut off her friends and colleagues in the Washington bureau. “You don’t have friends,” Ailes allegedly said. “I’m your only friend. Only I can protect you.” As part of his control over her, Ailes began to read her inbox and approve all of her outgoing emails.
Her mental health continued to deteriorate and in late 2010, Luhn moved to a rental apartment in Brentwood, California, which was allegedly hand-picked by a Fox News executive. That’s when, according to the suit, Shine began to handle her personal affairs.
Shine, the lawsuit says, sent Luhn to stay with her parents in Texas and repeatedly phoned Luhn’s father to keep a close watch on her. Shine even selected Luhn’s new psychiatrist, who convinced her to write a letter describing the abuse she’d endured. Luhn claims she delivered that missive to Fox’s then general counsel, Dianne Brandi.
Eventually, Luhn accepted a settlement that was her salary of $250,000 for the next 12 years; Fox would withhold 30 percent of the settlement as if it were wages, the suit claims.
The complaint points out that Luhn, who was terrified of Ailes and his blackmail threats, didn’t come forward until he resigned in wake of accusations from other women.
“Ailes’s abuse and Fox News’s complacency caused Luhn to suffer years of trauma,” the suit concludes. “Indeed, Luhn is still suffering from Ailes’s abuse. She is unable to function normally in everyday life. She frequently experiences flashbacks of the abuse.
“And she continues to relive the trauma day in and day out. Ailes’s abuse and manipulation of Luhn continues to haunt her to the point where she no longer has any normalcy in her life and feels completely alone and isolated. Ailes and Fox News, with Shine’s able assistance, utterly destroyed Laura Luhn.”