World

CBS denies former CEO Leslie Moonves $120M US severance

CBS Corp. said on Monday it will not pay Leslie Moonves a $120-million US severance package as the media giant girds for a likely legal battle with its former chief executive, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault that allegedly took place before and after he joined the company.

Long-serving TV executive accused of sexual harassment and assault

Les Moonves, former chief executive of CBS Corp., will not receive a severance package after being accused of sexual harassment and assault. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

CBS Corp. said on Monday it will not pay Leslie Moonves a $120 million severance package as the media giant girds for a likely legal battle with its former chief executive, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault that allegedly took place before and after he joined the company.

The decision to deprive Moonves of his severance and terminate his employment for cause follows a board of directors review of the findings of an investigation into Moonves' behaviour conducted by two law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling, hired by CBS.

"We have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his willful and material misfeasance, violation of company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to co-operate fully with the company's investigation," CBS's board of directors said in a statement that did not disclose details of the investigation.

A draft report of the investigation was leaked to The New York Times this month. It accused Moonves of destroying evidence and seeking to mollify accusers with promises of jobs at CBS.

Lawyer says conclusions 'without merit'

The report also included more accusations that Moonves advanced the careers of women who had sex with him and more accusers beyond the 12 disclosed in two New Yorker investigations that led to Moonves' forced resignation in September.

Moonves has denied any wrongdoing and has described his sexual encounters as consensual. 

Protesters stand outside the site of a CBS shareholder's meeting in New York earlier this month. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Andrew Levander, an attorney for Moonves, said his client "vehemently denies any non-consensual sexual relations and cooperated extensively and fully with investigators."

"The conclusions of the CBS board were foreordained and are without merit," Levander said in a statement. "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."

Allred calls for compensation

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

"The public has a right to know who at CBS was aware of Mr. Moonves' alleged misconduct and when they knew of it," said Allred, whose clients all spoke to the investigators. "Instead of keeping this money and rewarding their corporation for Mr. Moonves' alleged misconduct, they should share these many millions with those who can prove that they are victims."

The CBS board also said investigators found that harassment and retaliation were not pervasive at CBS but found that its policies and practices failed to prevent past incidents.

CBS suspended Charlie Rose, co-anchor of CBS's morning show and 60 Minutes in November 2017 — after several women accused him of harassment and misconduct — and fired him last September. Jeff Fager, 60 Minutes executive producer, was also fired in September after threatening a CBS News reporter investigating allegations of harassment of colleagues.

Investigators did find that the company failed to hold "high performers" accountable for their conduct, the board said.

The board said it has retained outside advisers to fix its human resources problems.

Last week, CBS named 18 organizations as recipients of a $20-million donation drawn from Moonves's severance to support eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.

With files from The Associated Press

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