After failing to dismiss sex trafficking allegations against him, ex-Fox News anchor Ed McHenry must now contend with new claims under New York’s Adult Survivors Act filed by former associate producer Jennifer Eckhart.
Eckhart’s legal team filed the fourth amended complaint on Wednesday, part of a rush of new litigation entering New York courts since the passage of a law temporarily rescinding the statute of limitations on sex-abuse lawsuits.
When Eckhart originally filed in July 2020, her then-co-plaintiff Cathy Areu named other conservative cable network’s superstars, including Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, as co-defendants. But, since then, Areu’s lawsuit was dismissed against all parties, including Hannity and Carlson. With the parties pared down considerably, Eckhart is the lone person suing and Henry is the only person being sued. Fox News Network LLC is also still on the hook.
In 2021, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams advanced multiple claims that Eckhart filed, and the judge recently gave Eckhart permission to file a fourth amended complaint in the Southern District of New York. (Judge Abrams is the sister of Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams.)
Formally filed on Tuesday, the latest iteration of the lawsuit, like all of the others, contains a “Trigger Warning” cautioning readers in fully capitalized red text that the complaint contains “Highly Graphic Information of a Sexual Nature, Including Sexual Assault.”
Beyond the new allegations under the Adult Survivors Act, the new lawsuit remains similar to the others. Eckhart claims that Henry tricked and cajoled her into coming to his hotel room under false promises of advancing her career and then, fearful of the impact on her career if she declined his “sexual advances,” had sex with him “against her will.”
The filing takes note of that alleged incident and aftermath:
After having extremely brief sexual intercourse, Defendant Henry told Ms. Eckhart how beautiful she was, said she belonged in front of the camera, and that she was “wasting her time” as a Production Assistant behind the scenes at Fox News. Instead, Defendant Henry offered to help advance Ms. Eckhart’s career, telling her that he could “get her in a room with some really powerful people.”
The message was clear: Ms. Eckhart would be rewarded for succumbing to Defendant Henry’s sexual advances as he would use his powerful position at Fox News to advance her journalism career. Alternatively, if she refused, she risked being punished (i.e., be fired from her job)…
Eckhart, who was 24 years old at the time, “cried herself to sleep” after coming home that night, the lawsuit says.
Additionally, the lawsuit says that Henry “later sexually assaulted her, physically forcing her to perform oral sex on him at Fox News’ New York headquarters,” and that he would go on to “violently” rape “Eckhart in February 2017, after which he sent her threatening messages boasting about the rape and how he physically injured her.”
In another passage, Eckhart accuses Henry of taking a page “out of the playbook of Roger Ailes, the former disgraced Chairman and CEO of Fox News” by handcuffing her, throwing her on his hotel bed, and taking “humiliating naked photographs of her on his iPhone as she laid naked, helpless, afraid and restrained.”
Several specific claims against Fox News, related to the network’s previously alleged knowledge of the allegations against Henry, did not survive dismissal during a ruling last year and have been removed from the new lawsuit. The new lawsuit, however, adds a separate negligence against the network, again citing the Adult Survivors Act.
The substantive changes in the latest filing are undergirded, at least in part, by a recent statutory change in the Empire State.
“Henry violently, forcibly and against Ms. Eckhart’s will and without her consent, frightened and placed her in apprehension of harm when he physically and violently sexually assaulted and raped her,” the lawsuit alleges in a new cause of action based on the New York Adult Survivors Act, a long-promised, recently-passed piece of legislation – and product of the #MeToo era – that provided a look-back window for removing the statute of limitations on certain lawsuits filed by sexual assault victims.
“Henry used his body, fingers, penis and/or foreign objects to forcibly touch and attempt and/or threaten to touch Plaintiff’s intimate areas and/or touch her with his own intimate body parts, including, but not limited to…invasively penetrating her vagina and/or mouth,” the filing alleges in causes of action for sexual assault and sexual battery.
An early preview of the filing, red-lined to track new allegations, can be found here.
[images: Henry via Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images; Eckhart via screengrab/Reinvented]
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