Former attorney general Eric Holder pitched his investigative services to a roomful of Hollywood executives on Friday, urging them to get out in front of #MeToo allegations.
Holder, now a partner at Covington & Burling, gave a presentation to about 50 corporate leaders at the firm’s Los Angeles office. The former attorney general oversaw the firm’s extensive investigation of sexual harassment claims at Uber last year, which led to the ouster of the CEO, and is now seeking to expand the investigations practice in Hollywood.
It might seem like a tough sell: Hire us, and your CEO could get fired. But Holder and two other partners, Aaron Lewis and Lindsay Burke, are selling companies on the benefits of anticipating problems before they become national news.
“The lesson of Uber is it’s vastly better to look at these issues proactively rather than reactively,” Lewis told Variety in an interview before the meeting.
Typically, companies handle complaints internally through human resources. In the more serious cases, they might hire an outside firm to interview witnesses and make findings and recommendations. Covington is offering a much more intensive and sweeping analysis of a company’s internal culture. In the Uber case, a team of investigators conducted 200 interviews and reviewed 3 million documents.
“If you’re going to get into brand crisis level allegations, you need more resources,” Burke told Variety. “You need resources to review a larger set of documents. You need corporate governance expertise.”
Uber hired the firm after a former employee, Susan Fowler, wrote a blog post documenting her experience of sexual harassment and the company’s indifference to her complaints. The firm had done work addressing racial discrimination for Airbnb, but the Uber case was the firm’s first broad-based harassment probe. But when the Weinstein scandal hit a few months later, the firm suddenly got inquiries from two dozen companies seeking help, Burke said.
“It went from zero to 100,” she said. “Some companies are trying to do this proactively and get out there and figure out, ‘What don’t we know?'”
Burke and Lewis declined to identify any of their Hollywood clients. But they said they are currently working for one major media companies that simply wanted a preventative probe of its own culture.
“This was a company that saw what was happening in its industry and wanted to understand where it might have some vulnerabilities,” Lewis said.
In the past, a company could trust that harassment allegations could be handled quietly. But in the #MeToo age, employees have access to public platforms and fewer inhibitions about sharing their stories.
“If you do get a blog post, you have 13 seconds to react,” Burke said.