Wednesday 23 January 2019

TV sex-inquiry boss loses $120m

Moonves denies misconduct but CBS throws out severance deal

Accusation: Eliza Dushku (pictured) claims she lost her part in CBS’s ‘Bull’ after complaining about alleged on-set comments by a fellow star, Les Moonves
Accusation: Eliza Dushku (pictured) claims she lost her part in CBS’s ‘Bull’ after complaining about alleged on-set comments by a fellow star, Les Moonves
Les Moonves

Alexandra Olson

American broadcasting giant CBS has announced its former chief executive Les Moonves will not receive his $120m (€105.6m) severance package after the board found he violated company policy and was unco-operative with a probe into sexual misconduct claims.

The decision, after a five-month outside investigation, capped the downfall of one of television's most influential figures. Mr Moonves is the biggest entertainment power-broker to have his career ended since the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct began.

His lawyer said the board's conclusions "are without merit" but did not say whether the former CEO would challenge it in arbitration.

Mr Moonves was ousted in September after allegations from women who said he subjected them to mistreatment including forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted.

"This is an important reminder harassment happens everywhere, and that even someone who has been perceived as untouchable will be held accountable," said Fatima Goss Graves, a co-founder of the Time's Up Legal Defence Fund, which provides legal assistance to victims of assault, harassment or abuse.

New York-based CBS said at the time of Mr Moonves's departure that it had set aside $120m in severance for him but warned he would not get the money if the board concluded it had cause to fire him.

"We have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his wilful and material misfeasance, violation of company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his wilful failure to co-operate fully with the company's investigation," CBS said in a statement.

The board did not provide details. Earlier this month, 'The New York Times' said a draft report from the outside investigation found Mr Moonves deleted numerous text messages and was "evasive and untruthful at times".

Andrew Levander, one of his lawyers, said his client "vehemently denies any non-consensual sexual relations and co-operated extensively and fully with investigators".

"Consistent with the pattern of leaks that have permeated this 'process', the press was informed of these baseless conclusions before Mr Moonves, further damaging his name, reputation, career and legacy," Mr Levander said.

The former CEO had been widely admired for turning around the fortunes of CBS when he took over as entertainment chief in 1995 with hits such as 'Two and a Half Men' and 'Survivor'. One of the highest-paid executives in the US, he made $70m in each of the past two years.

Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents four women who have accused Mr Moonves of misconduct, called on the company to publicly release the details of the investigators' findings and compensate those with provable misconduct claims.

"They should share these many millions with those who can prove that they are victims," she said.

Three major figures at CBS have lost their jobs over misconduct allegations: Mr Moonves, '60 Minutes' top executive Jeff Fager, and news anchor Charlie Rose.

Last week, CBS acknowledged it reached a $9.5m confidential settlement last year with actress Eliza Dushku, who said she was written off the show 'Bull' in March 2017 after complaining about on-set sexual comments from its star, Michael Weatherly. The board said the investigation, which was conducted by two independent legal firms, "concluded harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS".

Irish Independent

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