Vice Suspends Two Top Execs in Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegations

Vice Media has suspended two senior executives — president Andrew Creighton and chief digital officer Mike Germano — following a New York Times report last month detailing sexual harassment allegations against them.

The company’s decision to put the two execs on leave was announced in a memo to staff Tuesday from Vice COO/CFO Sarah Broderick (read the full memo below). The news was first reported by Times reporter Emily Steel, who wrote the exposé on Vice that was published Dec. 23.

A Vice rep declined to comment.

Also in her memo Tuesday, Broderick noted that Vice has committed to attaining a 50-50 ratio of male and female employees “at every level across the organization” by 2020 and set a goal of achieving pay parity by the end of 2018.

According to the NYT, Creighton paid $135,000 in 2016 to a former Vice employee after she alleged she was fired after rejecting his suggestion they have a romantic relationship.

Broderick, in the memo sent Tuesday morning, said the claim against Creighton was reviewed in 2016 by an independent law firm and was “found to lack merit, but the company agreed to settle the matter in order to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation.” However, she said, a special committee of Vice’s board is reviewing the matter and will make a recommendation about Creighton’s employment status prior to the company’s Jan. 11 board meeting. “In the meantime, Andrew has suggested, and we agree, that he remain out of the office on leave until the recommendation from the committee is made to Sr. management,” Broderick wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Variety.

Germano is the founder and CEO of digital ad agency Carrot Creative, which Vice acquired in 2013. According to the New York Times story, Germano had told former strategist Amanda Rue at Carrot Creative’s holiday party in 2012 that he had not wanted to hire her “because he wanted to have sex with her.” Another former Carrot employee, Gabrielle Schaefer, told the Times that Germano had “pulled her onto his lap” at a company event at a bar in 2014.

In the staff memo, Broderick said the claims about Germano will be investigated by Vice’s HR team with an external investigator, “a process that Mike has encouraged, and Mike will be on leave until the investigation is concluded.” The day-to-day operations of Carrot in the meantime will be led by Adam Katzenback, reporting to Ryan Mack, COO of Vice’s creative agency Virtue Worldwide.

All told, the New York Times reported that more than 20 female employees at Vice were subject to or witnessed other employees experiencing sexual harassment.

In response to the Times story, Vice co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi acknowledged problems at the company in a statement. “From the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive,” according to the statement from Smith and Alvi, neither of whom were accused directly of any misconduct in the NYT article.

Creighton and Germano are the only two Vice employees accused of misconduct in the Times piece who are still employed by the Brooklyn-based company.

In late November, Vice fired three employees for violations of its HR policies. That included Jason Mojica, head of Vice’s documentary films unit and former editor-in-chief of ViceNews.com. Mojica was accused by ex-Vice employee Martina Veltroni of retaliation after they had a sexual relationship, and Vice in 2016 reached a settlement for an unknown amount with Veltroni, the Times reported.

Vice has undertaken several steps to address harassment in the workplace, which also was the focus of a Daily Beast report in November. That has included hiring Vice global head of HR Susan Tohyama (formerly with the NBA); forming an advisory board with members including Gloria Steinem to advise Vice’s management and employees on workplace-conduct and diversity issues; eliminating the “nontraditional workplace agreement” that staffers were previously required to sign; and mandatory sexual-harassment training for all full-time employees and freelancers.

Investors in Vice include private-equity firm TPG, Disney, 21st Century Fox, WPP and Raine Group. Disney would acquire Fox’s stake in Vice under the companies’ pending deal announced last month.

Read the full text of Broderick’s memo:

VICE,

It is a new year. And a new year is a time for change – no more so than here at VICE. I wanted to reach out on the first day back from the holidays to make sure there are no misunderstandings about the way in which we are moving forward to change our workplace culture and ensure all our employees feel respected and supported.

A NEW GLOBAL HUMAN RESOURCES MANDATE

In October, we began taking additional steps to put in place a more progressive, safe, inclusive, and empowering workplace that values every single employee. The immediate first step was hiring a new head of HR. Our need to make changes and to invest in HR is clear, and your voices on this have been heard. Susan Tohyama joined us in November as the new global head of HR and we have committed to providing Susan the resources and support she needs. I hope that you will give her the continued opportunity to build the HR organization that VICE deserves.

Susan, along with her local HR teams, will continue to communicate all new HR initiatives as we work to transform our workplace culture in 2018 – focusing on building an inclusive, diverse, progressive environment where all employees can develop and thrive.

MANDATORY HARASSMENT TRAINING

Importantly, this week there will be an announcement from Susan requiring all those who work at VICE, both full-time and freelance, to participate in mandatory sexual harassment training. The trainings will be provided by professional third-party firms and will start later this month. Every employee in every office will be trained, but we expect to get through the US, UK, and Canada by the end of February. These trainings are to ensure awareness and understanding of VICE’s commitment to a workplace that promotes equal employment opportunities and is free of discrimination and inappropriate conduct. The note will also be reiterating the numerous ways in which concerns can be reported and how those concerns will be investigated. This applies to all who work at VICE – both full-time and freelance.

MARSHA COOKE & COMMUNITY

I want to warmly welcome Marsha Cooke, who will start later this month in Brooklyn as SVP of Content Strategy. In addition to Marsha’s primary role to oversee the build out of VICE’s content & talent development strategy, she will be leading the effort to drive social consciousness and diversity across our content, and help lead VICE’s Community initiatives, which include but aren’t limited to actions around gender, affinity groups, mentoring, and community partnerships. As I have travelled around over the last couple of months, many of you have voiced your willingness to lead these efforts. In the UK, Canada and other offices, many employee councils have been set up and improvements have already been realized.

We are taking you up on your offers to lead. To start, Charlotte Payne, along with Katherine Chandler and Ellie Lancaster-Smith will be leading the efforts in the UK. In Canada, Lana Van Brunt and Carly Gray have been spearheading Women@VICE and efforts are already under way to start a Diversity & Inclusion employee council.

In the US, I have asked Sarah Harrison, John Kolbeck, Lindsey Favious, Gianna Toboni, Sara Rodriguez, Lauren Dolgen, Catherine Whythe, Josh Cogswell, Ricki Askin, Krystle Watler, Hana Ballout, Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Natalie Farrey, Dory Carr-Harris, Lindsey Schrupp, Lauren Cynamon, Genel Ambrose and Annie Augustine to form an organizing committee to help coordinate the initial meet-ups around the areas of Mentoring, Gender, Affinity groups and community partnerships. These leaders in the US will be reaching out to the many of you who have expressed interest over the next couple weeks to get you involved, seek your input, organize the ideas have accumulated and to create momentum until Marsha starts officially. We will be asking for leaders in the other countries and offices as well. I promise you will hear more shortly. If you are interested in becoming more involved, you can sign up here. I expect these employee-led efforts in all of our offices to provide another influential forum for employees to have a stronger voice in the cultural changes we are making.

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION BOARD

You have asked for clarity about its role. Robbie and I will follow up later this week with a separate note on how the D&I board will intersect with the employee led community initiatives above as well as the various forums where employees can interact with the board. It is an important clarification and deserves its own note.

ORGANIZATION

Let’s be frank – we need more women and diversity throughout the organization. This is fundamental to VICEs ability to connect with its audience and is a strategic priority and a competitive advantage we hold – it is not just an internal initiative.

The Company is making visible changes to its leadership and more will be announced over the next couple of months. The make-up of the VICE board has been changed – some long-standing employees have been replaced with new faces and fresh perspectives. We have added and will continue to add women and people of diverse backgrounds to our ranks; across the entire organization including content, marketing and sales. Changing an organization takes time and doesn’t happen over night. VICE has committed to 50/50 male/female at every level across the organization by 2020 and pay parity by the end of 2018. These changes are part of a broader effort to put in place a leadership structure to take VICE forward, and to train a new generation of managers and leaders.

FOLLOW-UP ON SPECIFIC EMPLOYEES

I want to address specifically what VICE is doing in response to the allegations about various individuals named in the NYT story. As I’m sure many of you are aware, only two of the individuals named are still employed at VICE.

The claims regarding Carrot’s current CEO Mike Germano will be investigated by HR with an external investigator, a process that Mike has encouraged, and Mike will be on leave until the investigation is concluded. In the meantime, day-to-day operations of Carrot will still be led by Adam Katzenback, reporting to Ryan Mack. Together, they will be ensuring that the agency services businesses of VICE continue to be best positioned in the market. Expect next steps and further communication from them shortly.

Regarding Andrew Creighton, at the time the situation was reviewed by an independent law firm and the claim was found to lack merit, but the Company agreed to settle the matter in order to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation. As we said last week, there are details in the story that VICE believes were incomplete or misrepresented. As a further step, however, a special committee of VICE’s board is reviewing the facts and will make a recommendation to Sr. Management prior to the January 11th board meeting. In the meantime, Andrew has suggested, and we agree, that he remain out of the office on leave until the recommendation from the committee is made to Sr. management.

***********

After the board meeting on January 11th we will have an update on the additional work we’ve been doing to align our organizational structure under some new leadership and to set us up for 2018 with a mission to become the world’s most important media company where everyone wants to work.

The new year represents a new era for VICE. I know that working together, we can all have a very happy, healthy, and successful 2018. As always, please reach out with any concerns or questions.

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