Vice Media, under scrutiny following reports of a corporate culture hostile to women, said it terminated three employees for violations of its workplace policies, including verbal and sexual harassment.
In a memo to employees Thursday evening, recently hired Vice global head of HR Susan Tohyama said the misconduct of the three unidentified employees “ranged from verbal and sexual harassment to other behavior that is inconsistent with our policies, our values, and the way in which we believe colleagues should work together.”
Vice’s actions come after a Daily Beast report last month describing a “toxic” working environment rife with abusive behavior toward women. Among the charges in the report, former Vice producer Phoebe Barghouty alleged that Kaj Larsen, previously Vice News’ L.A. bureau chief — who is no longer with the company — engaged in repeated sexually inappropriate behavior toward her. She also said Jason Mojica, former editor-in-chief of ViceNews.com who later became head of Vice’s documentary films unit, made inappropriate jokes (which Mojica has denied) and dismissed her complaints about Larsen. Vice said it launched an investigation into the claims.
Vice suspended Mojica last month as it investigated allegations in the Daily Beast story. On Thursday, Variety asked a Vice rep about Mojica’s employment status but the spokesman did not provide an update. Mojica didn’t respond to a request for comment via email Thursday.
[UPDATE: In a statement sent to Variety on Dec. 3, Mojica confirmed he was one of the three employees Vice terminated; his firing was previously reported by the New York Times. “I am deeply disappointed by this outcome considering the information and documentation I provided in regards to matters raised in a recent news story,” Mojica said in the statement. The Daily Beast story “painted me as indifferent to concerns brought by staff to their supervisor in Vice’s Los Angeles office in October of 2015. In actuality, I immediately elevated the concerns to HR upon being made aware of them… I must stress that I never suggested that the strains of conflict and crisis journalism were an excuse for abusive or harassing behavior. I do not believe –- and never suggested — that such behavior should be tolerated.”]
In the wake of the Daily Beast report, the New York Times and other news outlets have been investigating harassment allegations at Brooklyn-based Vice.
Tohyama joined Vice four weeks ago, after previously serving as the NBA’s SVP of international HR, as part of the media company’s efforts to clean house. In the memo, which Vice posted online, she said Vice was not releasing details of the allegations or the employees who have been fired because “I believe the confidentiality of the process is necessary to protect all those who wish to bring allegations to me and to create a fair, safe and inclusive environment for all employees.”
In the memo, Tohyama said in her brief time at the company so far she has received “a handful of workplace complaints.” The company initiated investigations into all of them, and as a result of its findings “took disciplinary action, including terminating three employees.”
Vice has made several pledges to change its policies and improve its workplace culture in the wake of the harassment complaints, including hiring Tohyama.
That has included forming an advisory board to advise Vice’s management and employees on workplace issues. Members of the board include Gloria Steinem (who hosts docu-series “Woman” on Viceland); Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff; Maya Harris, a senior adviser on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign; and lawyer Roberta Kaplan.
Other measures Vice says it is taking: It has set a goal of “achieving pay parity” by 2018; it is “tightening” standards and practices, including updating reporting processes for any inappropriate behavior; it’s launching sensitivity training for employees; and it plans to restructure and diversify the company’s board of directors.
Vice also now has a hotline to let employees anonymously report inappropriate conduct; those complaints are automatically sent to Tohyama’s office and the office of the company’s general counsel.
Vice, which began life in 1994 as a punk-culture magazine, now is a sprawling, diversified media company. It operates a network of websites, including Vice.com; a cable TV network, Viceland, distributed in the U.S. and other countries; and a studio that produces documentary features and a weeknight news show for HBO.
The company is backed by several big traditional media companies, including Disney, 21st Century Fox, Hearst and WPP.