By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
Moonves Remains in Power Despite Credible Accusations
Leslie Moonves, the CBS Chairman and CEO, remains in power weeks after the Ronan Farrow New Yorker expose presented detailed accusations from six women (including well-known character actress Illeanna Douglas) involving sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation inflicted by Mr. Moonves from the 1980s through the 2000s. While the CBS Board has authorized a thorough investigation into these accusations, commentators have noted the contrast between the swift action taken against fellow media titan Harvey Weinstien versus the more measured, incremental approach adopted by the CBS Board.
Does this suggest a weakening of the #MeToo movement and the purported resolve by corporate America to truly enforce the very “zero tolerance” approach to complaints of sexual harassment Moonves himself championed at the outset of this movement?
When Should Corrective Action Occur After a Complaint?
The law requires any organization to take “prompt and appropriate corrective action” in response to any legitimate complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace. Indeed, in some cases, when the harassment does not involve an imbalance of power between the harasser and target (i.e. it occurs between co-workers), this can provide a complete defense to liability. A competent investigation is indeed the first step which generally needs to be taken when such a complaint is raised.
Is this, however, even necessary when CBS is confronted by the level of detail and corroboration as was presented here and the accusations involve the leader of the organization? It is not, and the CBS Board could readily take appropriate adverse action against Mr. Moonves, including pulling the trigger on a “for cause” termination, based on the information compiled by Mr. Farrow (who interviewed over 30 women) and presented in the article. Should the failure to take this action concern those of us who care deeply about the enduring power of the #MeToo movement? It should, and our voices need to be heard as this situation now unfolds.
A Company Cannot Have It Both Ways
“Zero tolerance” for sexual harassment has to mean just that – when instances of harassment are verified, immediate action ensues, which means termination of the perpetrator in serious situations such as those documented by Mr. Farrow. No exceptions.
This takes collective will, which in the corporate setting often means action. While CBS may get to the right place eventually in connection with the ongoing investigations, the company has already failed by inaction in the face of what has already been verified – six women have been subject to egregious instances of harassment and assault by Mr. Moonves, and they and others have experienced retaliation for standing up to this illegal conduct. This bell cannot be unrung by any properly conducted investigation, and the inaction in the face of this record is shameful.
This Inaction Should Have Consequences
CBS leadership needs to understand that this inaction has consequences. While this is occurring in many ways in the marketplace (where CBS shares have plunged), the effect needs to be enduring well into the future, so that this “head-in-the-sand” approach does not recur. In a legal context, this inaction speaks volumes about the corporate culture at this company, and can and should be cited by advocates adverse to CBS who represent women subject to harassment and gender discrimination in the future.
I’ve successfully prosecuted a gender discrimination class action against CBS affiliate stations in the past (involving unequal pay and opportunities for overtime for female technicians). I won’t hesitate to seek similar relief, citing this shameful reaction to the Moonves conduct and its impact on the CBS culture, when given the privilege to represent other women employees of this organization in the future.
Contact Us Today
The lawyers at Schaefer Halleen have decades of experience in giving a powerful voice in our legal system to workplace sexual harassment survivors. We understand and appreciate the sea change in attitudes that continue to strengthen the #MeToo movement and will look to harness this powerful force to bringing critically necessary changes to the business and legal communities.
You can read more about the firm’s experience representing survivors of sexual harassment, as well as our strong focus representing victims of sexual harassment. You can read more about the firm’s advocacy on behalf of clients by viewing the important blogs we have written on the topic of sexual harassment.
For a confidential consultation, contact us today.