John Lasseter’s contract with Skydance Media contains provisions that make the former Pixar Animation chief financially responsible for any legal claims involving sexual harassment, according to multiple insiders.
The pact to bring Lasseter in as head of the company’s animation division is said to include “ironclad” provisions that require the executive to not only pay for legal issues arising from future misbehavior, but also indemnify Skydance from any past misdeeds that had not come to light in the due diligence process conducted by an outside law firm. One person familiar with the findings reported that Disney never settled any harassment claims against Lasseter during his more than two decades-long tenure at Pixar, nor did Lasseter personally settle any claims.
In order to get the job at Skydance, Lasseter met with an outside legal team to address allegations that he inappropriately touched or kissed former Pixar staffers. He was expected to give an exhaustive account of any behavior that was deemed unacceptable. The legal team conducted interviews with more than 20 people as they pieced together a report on Lasseter’s behavior, according to knowledgeable insiders. In a letter to staff on Wednesday, Skydance Media CEO David Ellison said senior management at the company had evaluated the report thoroughly.
“While we would never minimize anyone’s subjective views on behavior, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognized,” Ellison wrote. “We are certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague. And he has given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner that is the expectation of every Skydance colleague and partner.”
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If Lasseter is found to have lied to lawyers, he will be fired.
“David has been clear with John about what is expected in terms of his behavior,” said an insider. “If there is any daylight between them in terms of that, there will obviously be severe repercussions.”
Lasseter’s deal with Skydance, where he is expected to transform the media company into a major player, is a rich one. Not only does he command a generous seven-figure salary, he receives performance incentives, in the form of bonuses, tied to the box office results of movies he produces.
Before he was ousted from Disney and Pixar, Lasseter was considered to be a pioneer in the animation field. At Pixar, Lasseter combined stories with commercial appeal, involving lovable robots, rodents with culinary skills, and loyal toys, while also encouraging his staff to take creative risks — one film, “Wall-E,” had only minimal dialogue. Another, “Inside Out,” documented the warring emotions that accompany adolescence.
Disney did not technically fire Lasseter, but rather put him on sabbatical and paid him in full up until his contract expired on Dec. 31, 2018.
But Lasseter’s hire has inspired a backlash. It has been slammed by advocacy groups such as Time’s Up, Women and Hollywood, and Women in Film, who argue that it rewards a person who has previously abused his power. Skydance hosted a town hall meeting on Wednesday to address employees’ concerns. Lasseter is also expected to address the staff and answer questions in the coming days.