The long list of sexual harassment allegations against 21st Century Fox TV personalities just got a little longer. On Friday morning, Fox Business host Charles Payne was reportedly suspended amid an investigation into claims that he coerced a guest on the network into a sexual relationship. Payne, who is married, has forcefully denied the allegations, insisting on Twitter that he has "a mountain of proof" that will prove the claim of harassment and coercion ― which he calls "an ugly lie" ― to be false. An attorney representing Payne has also "categorically denied" the allegations to The Los Angeles Times.
The woman in question — a "frequent guest" on Fox Business, according to The Washington Post ― claims she engaged in an extramartial affair with Payne for three years "under threat of reprisals" if she refused him, the Times reported. Specifically, she alleges that she engaged in the affair believing it would help her become a paid contributor on Fox's cable news channels, and that when the affair ended, her opportunities were severely cut back. Her story echoes that of Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment accuser Wendy Walsh, who similarly claims her opportunities as a contributor were scuttled after she refused to have sex with the former Fox News star. (O'Reilly has denied all allegations against him.)
A spokesperson for Fox Business released a statement to NBC News, saying the company takes "issues of this nature extremely seriously," citing a "zero-tolerance policy" for the type of misconduct that's been alleged:
We take issues of this nature extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy for any professional misconduct. This matter is being thoroughly investigated and we are taking all of the appropriate steps to reach a resolution in a timely manner.
Payne, 56, has been an on-air personality on Fox Business throughout the last 10 years, dating back to the channel's launch in 2007. He currently hosts his own show, Making Money with Charles Payne.
This is far from the first instance a high profile on-air Fox personality is being accused of sexual misconduct. In 2016, Fox News founder Roger Ailes, now deceased, had to resign from the network amid multiple allegations of sexually predatory behavior, and O'Reilly's departure followed in early 2017. Both men denied the allegations, with Ailes commenting that "no good deed goes unpunished," and O'Reilly insisting his career was ended due to "completely unfounded" claims against him.
Longtime Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy was also accused of "severe and pervasive sexual harassment" in his former colleague Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit against the channel, although was not named as a defendant, and he remains with Fox News. Doocy has not commented publicly on the allegations, and no action was taken against him following Fox News' internal investigation.
The myriad allegations have resulted in heightened scrutiny of the corporate culture at Fox, especially regarding matters of sexual misconduct in the workplace. The controversies ultimately forced the departure of former Fox News president and Ailes ally Bill Shine in early May.
In a tweet sent early on Friday morning, Payne pledged to "fight" against the allegation "like a lion armed with truth."
For the time being, however, he'll be doing his fighting off-camera. Fox Business has not given any indication how long the investigation is expected to take, nor how long Payne's suspension is expected to last. As CNBC noted, Payne signed a contract extension just last month.