Fox News cannot obtain what counsel for Ed Henry’s accuser Jennifer Eckhart describe as “virtually limitless” access to her gynecological and other medical files, a federal magistrate judge ruled on Monday.
The ruling came during a discovery battle that began after Eckhart won a ruling last September, allowing her to sue Henry on allegations of sex trafficking. Eckhart claims that Henry dangled promises to advance her career as a then-associate producer to lure her to his hotel room, then forced her into sex.
“To be sure, this is not a conventional claim of sex trafficking,” U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams noted in ruling advancing the lawsuit last year. “Eckhart has not alleged, for example, that Henry forced her into prostitution or sexual slavery.”
Fox successfully dismissed the sex trafficking count, but the network did not defeat related allegations of retaliation and hostile work environment, which remain pending.
In the evidence-gathering phase, Fox News sought to investigate Eckhart’s claims of emotional distress with broad medical discovery, seeking “all documents concerning any medical treatment, examinations, meetings, evaluations or consultations” between Jan. 2, 2013, her date of hire, “through the present.”
“Eckhart’s medical records, including from her primary care physician and any gynecological records, from the months that follow each of her alleged interactions with Henry […] are therefore directly relevant to these factual allegations,” Fox’s attorney Rachel S. Fischer wrote in an April 21 letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein.
Eckhart’s attorney Renan F. Varghese bristled at those demands in a filing.
“Essentially, Fox has taken the position that, by claiming emotional distress damages in this case, Ms. Eckhart has opened the door to a virtually limitless examination into her medical history for a period of over nine years,” Varghese wrote in a 4-page letter last month, emphasizing the time frame in original. “By seeking carte blanche over Plaintiff’s medical history for such an extensive period of time, it is clear that Fox is merely seeking to harass a sexual assault survivor and to invade her personal privacy in further retaliation for her decision to bring a lawsuit.”
At a hearing on Monday, Fischer argued that the documents were necessary to investigate Eckhart’s alleged emotional injuries.
“Now, we’re hearing about these panic attacks and she’s going to the hospital,” Fischer said, adding: “We shouldn’t just rely on what [Eckhart] says.”
Urging the judge not to let Eckhart “leaf through” records and “decide what she’s going to produce,” Fischer argued: “We should be able to do that ourselves.”
Unpersuaded, Judge Gorenstein said that his not how the discovery process works.
“The fact is, we trust entities to go through their own records to look for responsive documents,” he said.
The parties did not dispute that Eckhart needed to produce mental health records, and Gorenstein made clear that other records must also be turned over if relevant to the emotional distress claims.
“Someone from your firm has to make a serious effort,” Gorenstein said.
During oral arguments from July 2021, Eckhart’s attorney Michael John Willemin described Henry’s conduct as “Weinstein-esque, but worse.”
“He hit her,” Willemin alleged last year. “He handcuffed her. He bruised her up. He called her a ‘whore.’ He told her she doesn’t have a choice.”
Judge Abrams, the sister of Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams, gave the lawsuit the green light in a ruling on Sept. 9, 2021. Gorenstein is the magistrate handling discovery in the case.
Read the written filings, below:
(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
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