CBS has agreed to pay a $30.5 million settlement after a state investigation found that the media company knew about and covered up multiple allegations of sexual assault made against former CBS President and CEO Les Moonves.
Company leaders hid the accusations from regulators, shareholders and the public. A senior executive at CBS who knew about the allegations sold millions of dollars of CBS stock in the weeks before the allegations became public, violating New York's laws on insider trading.
The broadcast giant will pay $22 million to shareholders and $6 million to sexual harassment and assault programs. Mooves is required to pay $2.5 million to stockholders whom New York Attorney General Letitia James said initially did not know about the allegations.
"CBS and Leslie Moonves' attempts to silence victims, lie to the public and mislead investors can only be described as reprehensible," James said in a statement. "After trying to bury the truth to protect their fortunes, today CBS and Leslie Moonves are paying millions of dollars for their wrongdoing. Today's action should send a strong message to companies across New York that profiting off injustice will not be tolerated and those who violate the law will be held accountable."
In 2017, a woman filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) describing an assault by Moonves, according to documents filed in the investigation. An LAPD captain then privately alerted CBS as well as Moonves. Each party tried to prevent the public from learning about the police report, the investigation stated.
In July 2018, The New Yorker published an article about the allegations, causing public uproar. Moonves resigned later that year after facing sexual harassment and physical and sexual assault allegations from at least 12 women.
CBS neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in the settlement. Moonves had previously called the allegations untrue.
"Candidly, I've seen a lot in my 20-plus years of practicing employment law," said Sandra Jezierski, an attorney with law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis. "But I was shocked by the level of cover-up that occurred and the fact that an LAPD captain not only shared an unredacted, confidential police report of a sexual assault with Moonves—the perpetrator—and CBS, but also actively assisted in the cover-up."
The #MeToo Movement: Why More Work Must Be Done
The allegations against Moonves arose when the #MeToo movement was gaining popularity. Several high-profile executives, from former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, were accused of sexual wrongdoing.
By October 2018, more than 200 powerful men had been ousted after public allegations of sexual harassment or assault, according to The New York Times. At least 920 people said one of those men had subjected them to sexual misconduct, and nearly half of the men who were replaced were succeeded by women.
Mark Kluger, founder of law firm Kluger Healey LLC in Fairfield, N.J., said the #MeToo movement has increased awareness of sexual misconduct among employers.
"Since the outset of the #MeToo movement, though, changes in the law, improved training, awareness, and ongoing internal and external pressure from employees and consumers has resulted in much improved mechanisms for addressing issues of workplace sexual harassment and assault," he said.
However, five years after the rise of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment still runs rampant within workplaces, with a recent survey showing that more than 50 percent of female employees experienced this form of harassment in the past year.
Jezierski said workplaces must take immediate action upon learning of sexual assault and harassment allegations, regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator sits in the C-suite. The CBS investigation shows what can happen when companies do not act on accusations.
"Culture starts from the top," she said. "The message [CBS] executives sent to their employees is that when you sit in the C-suite, you won't be held accountable for your actions—in this case, sexual assault."