Just days before Pixar's Coco is set to hit theatres, Pixar co-founder and Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter announced he is taking a six-month leave of absence, citing "missteps" with employees.
The boisterous, Hawaiian shirt-wearing personality behind some of the most beloved children's films of the past 30 years like Toy Story is the latest entertainment titan to be exposed for claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace, including a reported "unwanted advance" toward actress and writer Rashida Jones, who had been working on the script for Toy Story 4.
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In a vaguely worded memo obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday, Lasseter says he knows he has made some employees feel disrespected and uncomfortable.
"I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form," Lasseter wrote. "No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected."
A Disney spokesperson said the company is committed to maintaining a respectful work environment and fully supports Lasseter's sabbatical. Representatives for Jones did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Lasseter, 60, is known for directing films like Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life and Cars, and has produced every Pixar feature since 2001's Monster's, Inc. He has been the chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2006, when Disney purchased Pixar, and has overseen the recent Disney Animation renaissance with hits like Frozen and Moana.
Heard stories about him and his treatment of women. Remember when Brenda Chapman was fired from Brave?— @melsil
John Lasseter Taking Leave of Absence From Pixar Amid "Missteps"https://t.co/s0a4UIBIKZ
A report in the entertainment trade The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, details a culture in which Lasseter was known to hug, kiss and grope female employees.
Late Tuesday evening, Jones denied that she quit working on Toy Story 4 because of Lasseter's unwanted advances..
Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack said in a statement first released to the New York Times on Tuesday that they left the company because of creative and philosophical differences. Their statement called on Pixar to do more to hire women and people of colour for creative positions, including as directors.
The statement from Jones and McCormack says the Hollywood Reporter does not speak for them. It applauded unnamed sources included in the Reporter's story who told the trade magazine Lasseter's actions made them uncomfortable.
His well-documented hugs were at one time apparently publicly regarded as a quirk of employment under Lasseter. The Wall Street Journal had even cheekily detailed his proclivity for hugs in a 2011 story and photo spread subtitled "A sampling from among the 48 hugs administered by Pixar chief John Lasseter during the WSJ's daylong adventure with him."
Lasseter said he will use the sabbatical to take better care of himself, recharge and "ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve."
He told employees he looks forward to working together again in the new year.