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Six Women Accuse CBS CEO Leslie Moonves of Sexual Misconduct in New Yorker Report

CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves has been accused of sexual misconduct by six women, including actress Illeana Douglas, who asserts that Moonves had her fired from a comedy pilot after she rebuffed his forceful advances. The accusations were leveled in a report published Friday by investigative reporter Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker.

Douglas’ allegation stems from her work in 1996 on the pilot for “Queens.” Douglas described a meeting with Moonves in which he held her down on a couch and kissed her without her consent.

“At that point, you’re a trapped animal,” Douglas told the New Yorker. “Your life is flashing before your eyes.”

The allegations raise the question of whether Moonves will be forced to resign amid the heightened cultural sensitivity to sexual harassment allegations, even those that are decades old. In a statement to the New Yorker, Moonves acknowledged some past transgressions, but CBS has also disputed some other aspects of the story.

“Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company. I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” Moonves said. “Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected — and abided by the principle — that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”

In a statement issued after the report published, Douglas said, “Real change will occur when victims of sexual assaults are not stigmatized as whistle blowers, or people with some kind of agenda for coming forward. Real change will occur when opportunities to work at companies where assaults have occurred are no longer condoned. Speaking for myself, real change will occur when I can walk through the front doors of CBS and resume the creative and working relationship that was so tragically cut short in 1997.”

The CBS Corp. chairman-CEO is one of the most powerful and influential figures in the entertainment industry. Moonves is highly regarded as one of the most successful programmers in TV history for leading CBS’ rebirth in the mid-1990s and keeping the mothership CBS broadcast network as the nation’s most-watched network overall for 15 of the past 16 television seasons.

Even before the story was published, CBS’ board of directors issued a statement acknowledging the allegations and announcing plans to mount an investigation. CBS controlling shareholder Shari Redstone also issued a statement calling for a “thorough, open, and transparent” investigation of Moonves by the board. Redstone and Moonves are in the midst of a legal battle for control of CBS Corp. A rep for Redstone declined to elaborate after the story was published around 5:45 p.m. ET.

The story also delved into the allegations of a difficult working environment at CBS News with particular focus on former CBS News chairman and current “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager. Fager was also accused of inappropriate behavior in the workplace and of looking the other way at other staffers who engaged in harassing behavior. CBS did not have an immediate response regarding the specific claims against Fager.

In a statement, CBS said: “CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously. We do not believe, however, that the picture of our Company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect. We are seeing vigorous discourse in our country about equality, inclusion and safety in the workplace, and CBS is committed to being part of the solution to those important issues.”

Douglas maintains that after the trauma of her meeting with Moonves, she was let go from the pilot and CBS tried to renege on her $300,000 holding deal for the show. After her lawyer pressed the issue with CBS, Douglas settled out for $125,000, and she was offered a role in the CBS miniseries “Bella Mafia.”

“I go from being sexually assaulted, fired for not having sex with Les Moonves, fired by everyone, to ‘We are going to pay you in full and we also want you to be on this miniseries,’” Douglas told Farrow. “My understanding is, this is what they were going to do in exchange for not suing.”

Writer Janet Jones accuses Moonves of assaulting her during a pitch meeting at his office in 1985, when he was a TV executive at 20th Century Fox. When she tried to leave, she found the door locked. He unlocked it after she threatened to scream, Jones recalled. Afterward, Moonves threatened to ruin her career, Jones claims. CBS told the New Yorker that Moonves has no memory of the meeting with Jones.

Producer Christine Peters accused Moonves of making an advance to her in 2006 when she met with him in the hopes of landing the job as head of CBS Films, which was just starting up. Peters accused Moonves of putting his hand up her skirt and touched her thigh and underwear. CBS told the New Yorker that Moonves “categorically denies any alleged touching or inappropriate conduct during the meeting.”

Another unnamed actress who worked on a long-running CBS series accused Moonves of forcibly kissing her during a meeting not long after he came to CBS as entertainment president in 1995. The woman said she had rebuffed him years before, prior to his time at CBS, and after he got to the network he scrapped her series deal during a private lunch meeting where he forcibly stuck his tongue down her throat.

Writer Dinah Kirgo and another unnamed woman described as a former child star also described meetings with Moonves in the 1980s and ’90s, respectively, that included verbal sexual advances that left them rattled.

In response to the allegations regarding the working environment at CBS News, CBS issued a lengthy statement from CBS’ chief compliance officer. The network has already retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to investigate complaints about the division. CBS News was rocked in last November when popular “CBS This Morning” anchor Charlie Rose was fired amid allegations from multiple women about inappropriate sexual conduct, most of which involved staffers on his now-canceled PBS program “Charlie Rose.”

CBS is committed to providing its employees, vendors, and guests with a safe and secure environment in which to conduct their business. To that end, the Company regularly republishes its policies against discrimination and harassment in both our policy guide and our Business Conduct Statement, and supports these policies with regular mandatory training. 

Both the policy guide and Business Conduct Statement policies offer employees multiple avenues to report concerns or file complaints about possible workplace misconduct.  It is the policy and practice of CBS to investigate all complaints and to promptly remediate any problems that are identified.  The primary purpose of the remediation is to stop the misconduct at issue, and that may be accomplished through additional training, the reassignment of the offending individual, or discipline up to and including the termination of employment.  Our internal investigators have received training to enable them to address complaints appropriately.

The policies against discrimination and harassment include anti-retaliation provisions, and anyone raising a complaint is assured that he or she will be protected from retaliation.  Similarly, those accused of discrimination or harassment are reminded of the anti-retaliation policies, and advised that they will face discipline up to and including termination if they engage in any retaliatory actions.  Employees who suspect that they may be experiencing retaliation are instructed to report it immediately.

On occasion, the resolution of allegations in the workplace has involved financial settlements.  There are many reasons why such cases get settled. CBS typically includes non-admission clauses in such settlements, and settlements do not amount to admissions of guilt.

CBS previously retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News.  Ms. Plevan’s work is ongoing, and includes investigating allegations in this story. CBS has taken the allegations reported in the press seriously, and respects the role of the press in pursuing the truth, which is a role that is central to the mission of CBS News.

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