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Alphabet Settles Shareholder Suits Over Sexual Harassment Claims

OAKLAND, Calif. — Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has settled a series of shareholder lawsuits over its handling of sexual harassment claims, agreeing to greater oversight by its board of directors in future cases of sexual misconduct and committing to spend $310 million over the next decade on corporate diversity programs.

The settlement, filed on Friday in California Superior Court, also said employees would no longer be forced to settle disputes with Alphabet in private arbitration. Workers had demanded that change after details of sexual harassment cases at the company became public two years ago.

In addition, Alphabet said it would limit confidentiality restrictions when settling harassment and discrimination cases and ban workplace romances between managers and subordinates.

The Silicon Valley company was hit by a wave of shareholder lawsuits after The New York Times reported in 2018 that the board of directors had approved a $90 million exit package for a star executive, Andy Rubin, even after an investigation deemed a sexual harassment claim against him credible.

Five lawsuits in California were eventually consolidated into one case. One of them, brought by James Martin, an Alphabet shareholder, said board members had allowed illegal conduct to proliferate, ignored their fiduciary duties and became enablers of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Other shareholder suits are awaiting action in federal court and in Delaware, where Alphabet is incorporated. The federal cases are on hold pending the outcome of the California suits, while the matter in Delaware is in mediation.

Credit…Brian Ach/Getty Image

Julie Goldsmith Reiser, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, one of the firms representing Alphabet shareholders, said the $310 million commitment was meaningful because the tech giant was paying the money directly and it was earmarked to address one of the root problems at the company.

“The settlement fundamentally alters Alphabet’s workplace policies,” Ms. Reiser said. “It feels like we’ve given the company the tools to become a better workplace.”

So-called shareholder derivative lawsuits have sprung up in the wake of “Me Too” revelations of sexual misconduct by executives or prominent employees as a way to try to hold companies accountable.

In similar lawsuits at 21st Century Fox and Wynn Resorts, the damages won by shareholders were paid out by insurers to the companies, instead of to the individuals who sued.

After a sexual harassment scandal at its Fox News division, 21st Century Fox agreed to a settlement that included a $90 million payment from insurers and the formation of an advisory committee to improve its workplace culture.

The settlement with Alphabet also does not direct money to the people who sued, but it does steer funding and policies to prevent the bad behavior from recurring. Ms. Reiser hailed it for setting a new level of corporate governance and accountability, as well as a standard for the rest of the technology industry. The level of board involvement and executive accountability, she said, “goes far beyond what we’ve seen in other settlements.”

As the lawsuits started piling up, Alphabet’s board created a committee of independent directors to investigate the claims, interviewing current and former directors and employees. After the review, the committee determined that it should try to resolve the claims, according to the settlement. Alphabet and its directors denied any wrongdoing in the document laying out the agreement.

The company has undergone a significant changing of the guard in the last few years. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google more than two decades ago, stepped down from a day-to-day role at the company in late 2019.

David Drummond, a longtime company lawyer who kept his job even after details of an extramarital relationship he had with a woman who worked for him became public, left Alphabet this year. Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive, who was known to appear at company events with women he was seeing in extramarital relationships, left the board in 2019.

“Recent years have involved a lot of introspection and work to make sure we’re providing a safe and inclusive workplace,” Eileen Naughton, vice president of Google’s people operations, wrote in a blog post on the company’s website. “I’m grateful to everyone, especially our employees and shareholders, for providing us with feedback, and for making sure that the way we tackle these vital issues is better today than it was in the past.”

As part of the settlement, Alphabet agreed to form an advisory council focused on diversity, equality and inclusion made up of four executives — including Sundar Pichai, the chief executive — and three outside experts including Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge. The group will take on a wide range of issues, including hiring and retention, compensation, and how the company responds to and investigates employee complaints.

In addition, Alphabet’s board will receive more information about how the company is handling claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and directors will receive regular reports on the compensation of any senior executives found to have engaged in serious misconduct.

Shortly after the report about the payouts to Mr. Rubin and other Google executives accused of sexual misconduct, 20,000 workers staged a walkout demanding changes to how the company treats employees. In response, Google agreed to stop forced arbitration in individual cases of sexual harassment or assault. It later expanded the policy to all employee disputes with the company.

Alphabet said it would now extend the policy to its 11 other subsidiaries, like the self-driving car company Waymo. Some of those businesses have thousands of employees.

Google employees will no longer be bound to nondisclosure agreements preventing them from discussing the underlying facts or circumstances of incidents when settling sexual harassment and retaliation claims. Alphabet said it would “encourage” its subsidiaries to do the same but was not requiring the change.

In an attempt to address past problems of executives dating subordinates, Alphabet said, it has changed its workplace romance policy so that managers are no longer allowed to date employees they supervise. The previous policy “strongly discouraged” such relationships.

Alphabet also agreed that employees who are being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or retaliation when they depart Google will not receive severance or other compensation. That is already the case for employees fired for misconduct. Under the new policy, even if an employee is not fired, the misconduct will be taken into account in determining his or her severance, the company said.

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Pinterest Accused of Gender Bias in Suit by Former No. 2 Executive

SAN FRANCISCO — In April, Françoise Brougher, the chief operating officer of Pinterest and its top female executive, abruptly left the company with little explanation.

In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Ms. Brougher accused the $21 billion company, which makes virtual pinboards, of firing her after she complained about sexist treatment. In her suit, which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Ms. Brougher said she had been left out of important meetings, was given gendered feedback, was paid less than her male peers when she joined the company, and ultimately was let go for speaking up about it.

“Gender discrimination at the C-level suite may be a little more subtle, but it’s very insidious and real,” Ms. Brougher, 54, said in an interview. “When men speak out, they get rewarded. When women speak out, they get fired.”

Pinterest was reviewing the lawsuit, a company spokeswoman said. “Our employees are incredibly important to us,” she said, adding that the company was committed to advancing its culture so “all of our employees feel included and supported.” Pinterest is conducting an independent review regarding its culture, policies and practices, she added.

Ms. Brougher is one of the most prominent female tech executives to file a gender discrimination suit against her onetime employer since the venture capitalist Ellen Pao sued her firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in 2012. The new lawsuit suggests that bias against women in Silicon Valley has persisted, even after tech’s culture of sexual harassment of female executives and entrepreneurs became part of the #MeToo movement.

Ms. Brougher’s lawsuit follows a gender discrimination lawsuit last month against Carta, a financial technology start-up, by its former vice president for marketing, Emily Kramer. Ms. Kramer accused Carta of paying her less than her male peers and said the company retaliated against her for speaking up about gender equality and diversity.

A Carta spokeswoman said, “Gender inequality in the workplace is a real and systemic problem, particularly in Silicon Valley, however, the allegations in this case are unfounded.”

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ms. Brougher’s suit adds to the scrutiny of Pinterest, which has a large audience of female users. In recent months, the company, based in San Francisco, has also been criticized by some of its former Black employees over racial discrimination. In June, two of them, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, tweeted about racist and sexist comments, pay inequities and retaliation they experienced at the company. They quit in May.

Ms. Brougher is well known in Silicon Valley. She previously led the business side of the financial technology company Square and worked in a variety of positions on Google’s advertising business. She joined Pinterest in 2018 as chief operating officer and was responsible for the company’s revenue, with roughly half of the 2,000 employees reporting to her.

When Pinterest filed to go public in 2019, Ms. Brougher learned that she was paid less than her male peers and that her equity grants were “backloaded,” meaning most of them vested after several years, while her executive male peers’ grants were not, according to the lawsuit. After complaining, her compensation was adjusted.

Ms. Brougher said she was not invited on the “road show” to talk to investors for Pinterest’s initial public offering. She was also not invited to board meetings after the company went public, though members of her team were sometimes invited to those meetings without her knowledge, the lawsuit said. (She was not a member of the board.)

Ms. Brougher described a culture of “constant exclusion,” where decisions were frequently made in unofficial capacities, or “the meeting after the meeting.”

“When you are brought in as a No. 2, you are expected to advise the C.E.O.,” she said. “But when you are not in the meeting where the decisions are made and don’t have the context, it makes your job harder.”


Credit…Anastasiia Sapon for The New York Times

Ms. Brougher said Pinterest’s chief financial officer, Todd Morgenfeld, asked her at one point, “What is your job anyway?” in front of peers, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Morgenfeld also offered Ms. Brougher formal feedback that she viewed as sexist, according to the lawsuit. When she confronted him about it on a video call, he raised his voice and hung up on her, the suit said.

Ben Silbermann, Pinterest’s chief executive, was dismissive of Ms. Brougher’s concerns about Mr. Morgenfeld, comparing it to a domestic dispute, according to the suit. Human resources treated the complaint as a legal matter, the suit said.

In April, soon after the heated conversation with Mr. Morgenfeld, Ms. Brougher was terminated, according to the suit.

“I was told I wasn’t collaborating enough,” she said. Pinterest asked her to announce that leaving was her decision and she declined, she said.

Ms. Brougher’s law firm, Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, also represented Ms. Pao.

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McDonald’s Sues Former C.E.O. Steve Easterbrook

Eight months had passed since McDonald’s fired its chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, for sexting with a subordinate. Mr. Easterbrook had apologized and walked away with tens of millions in compensation, and the fast food chain had moved on under a new chief executive.

Then, last month, an anonymous tipster made a fresh allegation: Mr. Easterbrook had a sexual relationship with another McDonald’s employee while he was running the company.

On Monday, that accusation ignited a rare public war between a major company and its former leader: McDonald’s filed a lawsuit against Mr. Easterbrook, accusing him of lying, concealing evidence and fraud.

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Delaware, alleges that Mr. Easterbrook carried on sexual relationships with three McDonald’s employees in the year before his ouster and that he awarded a lucrative batch of shares to one of those employees. McDonald’s said it was seeking to recoup stock options and other compensation that the company last fall allowed Mr. Easterbrook to keep — a package worth more than $40 million, according to Equilar, a compensation consulting firm.

A lawyer for Mr. Easterbrook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday morning.

The lawsuit represents an extraordinary departure from the traditional disclose-it-and-move-on decorum that American corporations have often embraced when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing by senior executives. More than a few chief executives in recent years have lost their jobs following allegations of sexual or other misconduct, but for the most part they have departed quietly and the companies haven’t aired the ugly details.

It also, however, raises new questions about how diligent McDonald’s was in looking into Mr. Easterbrook’s conduct before dismissing him with a generous compensation package. The lawsuit acknowledges, for instance, that the company’s initial review did not include a thorough search of the executive’s email account.

“One would think that it would be internal investigation 101 to look at all electronic records right away,” said Brandon L. Garrett, a professor who specializes in corporate criminal law at Duke University School of Law. “The concern, if an investigation doesn’t look at emails, is that it was a halfhearted investigation.”

In the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter eras, more companies are striving to position themselves as good corporate citizens, responsible not only to shareholders but also to customers, employees and society at large. Mr. Easterbrook’s successor at McDonald’s, Chris Kempczinski, has called for a new corporate emphasis on integrity, inclusion and supporting local communities.

“McDonald’s does not tolerate behavior from any employee that does not reflect our values,” Mr. Kempczinski wrote in an internal memo reviewed by The New York Times. He added, “As we recommit to our values, now, more than ever, is the time to lean in to what we stand for and act as a positive force for change.”

McDonald’s is among a tiny number of major companies to publicly — and with unconcealed anger — go after a recently departed chief executive. CBS’s firing of Leslie Moonves, in which the television company accused him of obstructing an internal investigation, is one of the few other examples. (Mr. Moonves claims he is entitled to a $120 million severance package. The dispute is now in arbitration.)

Until last fall, Mr. Easterbrook, a native of Watford, England, was regarded as something of a savior at McDonald’s. He had worked at the company for nearly two decades before taking its helm in March 2015. The fast-food chain was in a financial slump. Mr. Easterbrook streamlined its businesses, introduced technological innovations like touch-screen ordering and delighted customers by offering all-day breakfasts. The company’s shares roughly doubled during his tenure.

But in October 2019, the company was notified that Mr. Easterbrook had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a McDonald’s employee. Mr. Easterbrook and the employee, who has not been publicly identified, told the company that the relationship was consensual and was not physical; it consisted of text messages and videos. Mr. Easterbrook assured the company’s outside investigators that he had never engaged in a sexual relationship with an employee.

The board of directors nonetheless decided to fire him. The question that the directors considered was whether he would be fired “for cause” — in other words, for an offense such as dishonesty or committing a crime. It was a crucial determination. If Mr. Easterbrook was fired for cause, he would have to relinquish previously awarded compensation, including stock options that he was not yet eligible to cash in.

McDonald’s said in its lawsuit on Monday that its board had feared that trying to fire Mr. Easterbrook for cause would be “certain to embroil the company in a lengthy dispute with him.” Instead, the board opted to ease Mr. Easterbrook out “with as little disruption as possible.”

The company allowed Mr. Easterbrook to keep his stock options and other compensation.

But McDonald’s severance plan, which the company said applied to Mr. Easterbrook, contained an important clause: If, in the future, McDonald’s determined that an employee was dishonest and actually deserved to be fired for cause, the company had the right to recoup the severance payouts.

Last month, after McDonald’s received the anonymous tip alleging that Mr. Easterbrook had had a sexual relationship with another employee, the company opened a new investigation.

In its review last fall, McDonald’s outside lawyers had only looked at messages that were on his company-issued mobile phone. And Mr. Easterbrook, according to McDonald’s lawsuit, had deleted certain emails from his phone.

This time, McDonald’s said, its investigators conducted a more detailed search, and in Mr. Easterbrook’s email account they found evidence of him carrying on sexual relationships with three employees in the year before his firing.

“That evidence consisted of dozens of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit photographs and videos of various women, including photographs of these company employees, that Easterbrook had sent as attachments to messages from his company email account to his personal email account,” McDonald’s said in the lawsuit. The company said the emails were sent in late 2018 and early 2019.

The company said the photographs constituted “undisputable evidence” that Mr. Easterbrook violated the company’s prohibition on having sexual relationships with subordinates and that he had lied to the investigators last fall.

While Mr. Easterbrook was having a sexual relationship with one of the employees, he awarded her hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares, the company said in its lawsuit.

“Had Easterbrook been candid with McDonald’s investigators and not concealed evidence, McDonald’s would have known that it had legal cause to terminate him in 2019,” the company said in its lawsuit.

In that case, Mr. Easterbrook would not have been entitled to retain his previously awarded compensation.

McDonald’s said on Monday that it was taking action to prevent Mr. Easterbrook from cashing in his stock options or selling his shares.

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Andrew Lack Is Out as the Head of NBC News After a Stormy Tenure

The chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack, will depart his role at the end of May, NBC Universal said on Monday, an abrupt end to the tenure of an executive whose tenacity and ability to withstand turmoil made for a long career in the fickle television news business.

The announcement brings to a close Mr. Lack’s tumultuous time at the helm of NBC News, during which he oversaw a turnaround in marquee properties like the “Today” show and the cable channel MSNBC while grappling with a cascading series of controversies, including the toppling of the star anchor Matt Lauer in a sexual harassment scandal and questions over the network’s coverage of Harvey Weinstein.

Cesar Conde, the chairman of Telemundo, will effectively replace Mr. Lack. As the chairman of the NBC Universal News Group, a newly created position, Mr. Conde will have oversight of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.

Mr. Conde, 46, has impressed NBC Universal’s chief executive, Jeff Shell, with his stewardship of Telemundo, the Spanish-language network that has made strides under his leadership in catching up with its chief rival, Univision.

The president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, and the MSNBC president Phil Griffin will both report to Mr. Conde, who will relocate to New York from the Telemundo office in Miami.

Mr. Lack had been widely expected to leave NBC News by the end of the year, though rumors of his imminent exit have swirled for years. Change at the top of NBC Universal’s corporate hierarchy may have prompted his exit.

Mr. Shell took over NBC Universal as its chief executive at the beginning of the year, replacing Stephen B. Burke, who had resolutely backed Mr. Lack, even as controversies mounted. Mr. Shell was more inclined to make a quicker change at NBC News, according to two people with knowledge with his thinking.

Mr. Shell made other changes on Monday, including appointing Mark Lazarus as the head of the company’s entertainment properties, as well as its new streaming service Peacock. NBC Universal, which controls theme parks and a large advertising business, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Shell suggested last week that the company was looking at cost-cutting

When Mr. Lack was brought back to NBC News in 2015 — he ran its news division in the 1990s before decamping to a job in the music industry and at Bloomberg News — his brief was simple. Fix MSNBC. Fix the “Today” show. Fix “Meet the Press.” And find an elegant way to push out or resurrect Brian Williams, the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” who had been suspended after fabricating stories about his time in the field.

In many ways, Mr. Lack succeeded. MSNBC had the highest ratings in its history, benefiting from a surge of interest in cable news during the Trump administration. “Today” and “Meet the Press” have stabilized. And Mr. Williams has served as the host of election night specials and “The 11th Hour,” a popular MSNBC late night show.

But Mr. Lack’s stormy tenure is likely to be defined more by its controversies than its successes.

Since the evening in 2017 when Mr. Lack traveled to Mr. Lauer’s Manhattan apartment and told the “Today” anchor he had been fired, Mr. Lack has had to confront questions over what he and other NBC News bosses knew about the anchor’s alleged history of sexual misconduct. (Mr. Lauer has denied the allegations against him.)

Mr. Lack has repeatedly said that he knew nothing of Mr. Lauer’s allegedly inappropriate workplace behavior, and said that he fired Mr. Lauer immediately upon first learning of an assault allegation against him in November 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was gaining steam.

A subsequent internal NBC Universal investigation exonerated Mr. Lack’s handling of the matter. But the company has been harshly criticized for declining to hire an outside law firm to conduct the review. Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s biggest star, went so far as to question the credibility of the review in an on-air monologue.

Mr. Lack also faced withering criticism for why the network allowed Ronan Farrow, a onetime reporter for NBC News, to take his Harvey Weinstein sexual assault reporting to The New Yorker, even though he had been working on the story for months at NBC. Mr. Farrow would go on to share a Pulitzer Prize for his work in the prestigious public service category.

Rich McHugh, Mr. Farrow’s producer at NBC, told The New York Times in 2018 that he had been instructed to stop reporting on Mr. Weinstein, and that the order came from “the very highest levels of NBC.”

Mr. Lack and Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, repeatedly denied that they tried to quash Mr. Farrow’s reporting, arguing that what he had while reporting for NBC News was substantially different from what he ended up with at The New Yorker.

When Mr. Farrow’s book, “Catch & Kill,” was released last year, it brought his experience at NBC to the fore. Ms. Maddow was among the people at the network’s news division who were publicly critical of Mr. Lack and the NBC News leadership team.

“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in this company since I’ve been here,” Ms. Maddow said on the air in October, before she invited Mr. Farrow on as a guest. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.”

On Monday, Mr. Farrow tweeted, “Andrew Lack is stepping down, after public protests calling for leadership change and a unionization effort within the company demanding more transparency about harassment issues there. Grateful to the sources who spoke.”

Before the Weinstein controversy, Mr. Lack was questioned for his decision to hire Megyn Kelly away from Fox News. He created a Sunday evening showcase for the anchor and gave her in a prominent role on “Today.” Ms. Kelly was eventually forced out of the network after an embarrassing on-air gaffe.

NBC also faced questions in 2016 about why it did not break the story of the “Access Hollywood” audio recording that showed Donald J. Trump, then a candidate for president, making vulgar comments about women. “Access Hollywood” was part of the NBC Universal family, and NBC News had access to the tape, but declined to go with the story before The Washington Post beat the network to it.

Through a representative, Mr. Lack declined to comment.

The future of Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, is likely to rest on his new relationship with Mr. Conde, who will take over as the chairman of the NBC Universal news group immediately. Mr. Oppenheim signed a new multiyear contract with the network last year.

Mr. Lack published a story on the NBC News website last week trumpeting the importance of journalism amid a pandemic, when the news media is under attack.

“During times like these, as millions of people turn to the news for answers, the choices we make about what to air and how to report it can make the difference between panic or persistence, and even life or death,” he wrote. “Humbled by the responsibility we bear, we try our damnedest to serve our audience.”

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Harvey Weinstein Is Gone, but Hollywood Is Still a Man’s World

LOS ANGELES — In Hollywood, director jobs are no longer automatically filled by white men. Television writers’ rooms have made diversity and inclusion top priorities. Human resources departments at major media corporations are more responsive when complaints are filed. Intimacy coordinators, who introduce physical consent considerations into the artistic process, are now normal on productions featuring sexual content.

It has been nearly two and a half years since the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein burst into public view, and much is different in Hollywood.

But the entertainment industry has been doing things a certain way for decades, and not every aspect of it has been quick to change. Even as Mr. Weinstein was found guilty on Monday of two felony sex crimes, Hollywood largely remains a man’s world.

Take the Oscars, moviedom’s ultimate show of power and prestige. For the ninth time in 10 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did not nominate a woman for best director in 2020. Only one of the 20 acting nominations went to a person of color. And with the exception of “Parasite” and “Little Women,” the majority of the films honored by the Academy — “The Irishman,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “Joker” — were portraits of white men directed by prominent white auteurs.

“I hear people saying a lot of things they hadn’t said before: that inclusion matters, that they understand the need for representation, that they believe in diverse people and perspectives being centered,” the writer and director Ava DuVernay said. “But saying it and doing it aren’t parallel tracks.”

One group of high-powered women in town maintains a running list of the white men who keep rising up the executive ladder while the women stay at least one step below. Jennifer Salke, for instance, became the head of Amazon Studios in 2018 after her predecessor, Roy Price, was accused of sexual harassment. But the former Sony executive Mike Hopkins was brought in last month to oversee Amazon’s video entertainment business. Ms. Salke reports to him and he reports to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder.

It is unlikely that accused harassers like Brett Ratner, James Toback, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer will return to the public eye anytime soon. (Those men, and Mr. Weinstein, have denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex.)

But many in town remain frustrated by those who were accused of improprieties — or who worked closely with those who were — and have been allowed to return to work. Case in point: John Lasseter, who was removed from his position as the creative chief of Pixar after acknowledging misbehavior in 2018, landed a top job at Skydance Animation last year. The former Weinstein Company partners David Glasser and Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother, have each formed new production companies. Mr. Glasser raised some $300 million in financing from partners such as Ron Burkle, and has become a fixture on the festival circuit.

“No matter how much things are shifting in the right direction, when you get to the top of these media companies, you will usually find a white dude,” said Nina Jacobson, a veteran producer and the former president of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. “The power behind the power is still white and male, and in terms of truly passing the torch in corporate life, the torch has not yet been passed.”

On the whole, Hollywood has become a more inclusive place. It has been helped by the rise of streaming services, which have a seemingly insatiable need for more content that appeals to new and diverse audiences. Women and people of color have been finding their voices through organizations like Time’s Up and ReFrame, which have transformed the issues of gender and racial equality from tired buzzwords into vital, concrete paths to addressing the imbalanced power structures that some blame for allowing abusers like Mr. Weinstein to flourish.

“I think that the very small group of people that are waiting for things to even out and go back to the status quo need to realize that’s never going to happen,” said Nina Shaw, an entertainment lawyer and a co-founder of Time’s Up. “But we also need to figure out a way forward.”

Last summer, as the showrunner Melissa Rosenberg began developing a pilot for HBO Max based on the prequel to the 1998 film “Practical Magic,” she noticed stark changes in corporate attitudes.


Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York Times

Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York Times

“There were very specific intentions from the studio and the network to have diverse voices in the room,” said Ms. Rosenberg, who created the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” and was an executive producer for “Dexter.” She added that she had been told, “You will not have a room without people of color and diversity of gender and sexual orientation.”

“That was a big change,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “When I was coming up it would be sufficient to have one woman in the room — to represent the female voice — and she was often the lowest-paid writer, too.”

Today’s issue in television is one of supply. Rarely are episodic series staffed with an all-male director slate, unless the show’s creator opts to direct each episode. More frequently, women are landing directing gigs.

With so many shows being produced, there aren’t enough women to fill the demand. “The problem now is a pipeline problem,” Ms. Shaw said.

Mark Gill, who was president of Miramax Los Angeles when Harvey Weinstein ran the company, was the only man to speak out in the New York Times article in 2017 that first chronicled Mr. Weinstein’s abuse. He said then that the company “was a mess” but that Mr. Weinstein’s treatment of women “was the biggest mess of all,” a quote that drew the ire of his male colleagues when it was published.

“I got a ton of blowback,” Mr. Gill said in a recent interview. “It was sort of a violation of the code. Several people actually said to me, ‘You’ve just blown your career.’”

Mr. Gill has since started a production company with $400 million in financing and a staff that is divided equally between genders. “Of course, it turned out to be the exact opposite,” he said of the warnings he received. “It turned out to be a recruiting advantage.”

Hollywood has marked its intention to adapt with the formation of support organizations. These include Time’s Up, the celebrity-fueled group that in addition to condemning sexual harassment has formed a legal-defense fund to help connect women of various industries to lawyers, and ReFrame, an organization run by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute with the goal of achieving gender parity in the entertainment industry. Women in Film also started an independent help line for anyone who has been harassed or abused to call to be connected with pro bono lawyers or therapists.

“Women have less trepidation about helping each other, networking with each other, being vulnerable with each other,” said the producer Amy Baer, the board president of Women in Film. “I think this is a direct result of #MeToo and women realizing that there’s strength in numbers and in having each other’s backs, much the way the boys’ network has worked for decades.”

The SAG-AFTRA actors’ union has turned the job of intimacy coordinator, a profession that began on theater stages, into a cottage industry inside Hollywood. And it has developed a set of guidelines and protocols for how the coordinators are integrated into sets.

“It’s been an interesting process,” said the actress Gabrielle Carteris, who is president of the union. She worked closely with actors, directors, writers and the coordinators over the past two years to determine the protocol that was released in January.

“When you think about the Harvey period from a few years ago, people felt like they had no control,” Ms. Carteris said. “There was no structure. Now people are saying: ‘I can do this work. This is amazing.’ I think this moment is a step towards cultural change.”

Still, systemic transformation is slow. According to a 2019 study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 17 percent of executive positions in major media companies were held by women, with only four of the women coming from underrepresented groups. Producing stats are equally dismal, with just 18 percent of producers on films between 2016 and 2018 being women. (Only 11 percent of all producers came from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.) While “Captain Marvel,” “Harley Quinn,” “Wonder Woman” and other female-centered blockbusters have come to the screen with female directors at the helm, most theatrical blockbusters based on well-worn intellectual property — the bread and butter of today’s movie business — still belong to the men.

“Inside, deep inside, I’m not seeing wheels turn beyond surface statements,” Ms. DuVernay said. “I think Time’s Up is effective and still pushing hard. But without a real threat or adverse impact, systems don’t change overnight. As I’m experiencing it now, I’d say it’s at 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Which is significant, seeing it was at a negative 20 before.”

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A Top L Brands Executive Complained of Harassment. Then She Was Locked Out.

In the more than two years since Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a sexual predator, the #MeToo movement has wrought a revolution in corporate governance — or so it would seem.

Corporations have diversified their boards with experts on inclusion. Board members have attended harassment training sessions and updated codes of conduct. Procedures have been established for handling complaints that reach the board. A key tenet: No one who brings a credible allegation to the board should face retaliation.

Then there’s L Brands.

As the holding company for Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, major brands with a heavily female clientele, L Brands “should be especially sensitive” to how allegations of gender discrimination and sexual misconduct are handled, said Charles M. Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. The scrutiny the company has undergone since public disclosure of the inexplicably close ties between the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein and Leslie H. Wexner, L Brands’ chief executive, chairman and major shareholder, should only have heightened board concerns and sensitivities, he added.

Last year, L Brands took what seemed like significant steps to address its lack of diverse views and persistent claims of board cronyism with Mr. Wexner. It added two prominent women as independent board members: Anne Sheehan, a longtime advocate of good corporate governance, and Sarah E. Nash, a former J.P. Morgan executive and the chief executive of Novagard Solutions. Already on board was Patricia S. Bellinger, who is chief of staff to Harvard University’s president, Lawrence Bacow, and an expert on diversity and inclusion.

“We strictly prohibit retaliation for reporting concerns,” L Brands says on its website. “Anyone who retaliates or tries to retaliate against an individual who raises a concern in relation to this policy or who participates in the investigation, will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

Which makes L Brands’ recent treatment of one of its highest-ranking female executives, Monica Mitro, all the more troublesome.

Ms. Mitro was until last fall the executive vice president of public relations for Victoria’s Secret. She was a well-known figure in fashion and media circles who had spent decades at the company.

But for years, Ms. Mitro suffered verbal abuse at the hands of Ed Razek, her boss and a top executive at L Brands, according to colleagues who witnessed numerous instances of mistreatment. At times, they said, Ms. Mitro was left in tears.

Mr. Razek was the subject of repeated complaints, including trying to kiss models, get them to sit on his lap and making unwanted advances, The New York Times reported this weekend. An employee’s human resources complaint that was reviewed by The Times listed more than a dozen allegations, including demeaning comments and inappropriate touching of women. Mr. Razek said the allegations against him were “categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context.”

Last fall, not long after Mr. Razek left the company and as rumors of imminent layoffs in Ms. Mitro’s marketing area were swirling, she decided it was time to speak up.

She didn’t think she could trust human resources, according to people familiar with her thinking, so she took her complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination — involving her and others — to someone she believed would inform the board of directors.

That person, according to people familiar with the exchange, was David A. Kollat, who had recently stepped down after 43 years on the boards of L Brands and its predecessors. He and Ms. Mitro had become close over her long tenure at the company, and she spoke with him directly.

Before stepping down, Mr. Kollat had been an independent director at L Brands, even though he was widely known to be close to Mr. Wexner. He had worked directly under Mr. Wexner for 10 years, serving as executive vice president for Mr. Wexner’s retail chain, The Limited.

It isn’t clear exactly what Mr. Kollat did with the information that Ms. Mitro provided. Ms. Mitro was not available for comment. Mr. Kollat, who is also the lead director at the footwear maker Wolverine Worldwide, did not respond to multiple messages. And Tammy Myers, a spokeswoman for L Brands, declined to say, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Mr. Elson, the Delaware professor, said the proper course would have been for Mr. Kollat to inform the appropriate board committee (typically, the audit committee) and for the board to hire outside counsel to look into the matter.

“The responsibility of the board is to conduct a thorough, independent investigation,” Mr. Elson said. “Under no circumstances should it punish or retaliate against the person bringing the complaint or appear to do so.”

The first inkling that Ms. Mitro was in trouble came the day after her complaint.

An L Brands facilities manager told her how sorry she was: Ms. Mitro’s name was on a list of employees whose access to the building was about to be terminated, according to people familiar with the day’s events. Later that day, the head of human resources at Victoria’s Secret told Ms. Mitro that she was being placed on paid administrative leave, these people said. Ms. Mitro wasn’t told why.

Ms. Mitro’s colleagues never saw her in the office again, leaving many colleagues with the impression that L Brands had retaliated against her, according to co-workers at the time.

The suddenness with which Ms. Mitro was locked out and the lack of an explanation raise serious questions about L Brands’ commitment to its policy of protecting against retaliation.

How did Mr. Kollat handle her complaint? Instead of his former board colleagues, did he go directly to Mr. Wexner, or someone close to him? It is almost inconceivable that Ms. Mitro — a senior executive at Mr. Wexner’s flagship brand — would have been locked out of the building without his knowledge or approval.

Two people familiar with the board’s deliberations said Ms. Mitro’s complaint did reach the board — but only after Ms. Mitro was gone.

It’s not unheard-of for companies to place an employee on leave, but Ellen Zucker, an expert on employment law and a partner at the law firm Burns & Levinson, called the L Brands scenario “a textbook case of how not to handle a sexual harassment complaint” after I described it to her. “It’s especially important to guard against anything that might look like retaliation.”

Mr. Elson, the Delaware professor, called it “absolutely not the right response.”

“This is the kind of thing that happened 20 years ago,” he said.

In response to my questions, Ms. Myers, the L Brands spokeswoman, said the company and its board were determined to do better. In a statement — made on behalf of the board’s independent directors — she said the company was “intensely focused” on issues that affect its 90 percent female work force.

“With the adoption in recent years of even more robust anti-harassment policies, hotline reporting and training, we have made significant strides in ensuring that the company provides a safe, welcoming, and empowering workplace for every associate,” she said. “We regret any instance where we did not achieve this objective and are fully committed to continuous improvement and complete accountability.”

Ms. Zucker said it was all too common that companies choose to protect high-ranking executives rather than those employees who bring complaints against them.

“One reason retaliation claims are so prevalent is that it’s human nature to protect the people you know and like,” she said. “The challenge for any governing body is that’s precisely the inclination you have to guard against.”

It’s rare that details of retaliation claims ever become publicly known, though. Such claims, or even the hint of them, raise the specter of a lawsuit, which companies quickly try to head off.

That’s exactly what happened here.

Ms. Mitro hired lawyers at Browne George Ross, a law firm in Los Angeles, and, according to people close to her, recently reached a settlement with L Brands that bars her from disclosing the terms or discussing her claims.

That silence speaks volumes.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg contributed reporting.


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Oprah Winfrey Pulls Out of Documentary on the Music Mogul Russell Simmons

Oprah Winfrey said on Friday that she was cutting ties with a documentary centered on women who have accused the music mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct. The untitled film, scheduled to have its premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival, focuses primarily on the executive Drew Dixon, who accused Mr. Simmons of raping her, an accusation Mr. Simmons has repeatedly denied.

Ms. Winfrey had served as an executive producer on the project by the veteran documentary filmmaking duo Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, whose works include the 2015 film “The Hunting Ground,” an examination of rape on American college campuses, and “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the United States military.

With Ms. Winfrey’s departure, the film has also lost its distributor, Apple TV Plus. Apple had agreed to make the documentary available on its streaming platform as part of Ms. Winfrey’s overall deal with the company.

In a statement, Ms. Winfrey said she “unequivocally believes and supports the women,” adding that their stories “deserve to be told and heard.”

Her departure, she said, stemmed from creative differences with the filmmakers. “In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured,” she said, “and it has become clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned in that creative vision.”

Apple declined to comment.

Ms. Winfrey’s decision to leave the project came a month after Mr. Simmons questioned her involvement in the film in an open letter to her, posted on Instagram, that started with the words “Dearest Oprah.”

The post appeared on Dec. 13 next to a photograph of Ms. Winfrey interviewing Mr. Simmons about his 2014 book “Success Through Stillness” on the OWN program “Super Soul Sunday.” In the post, he said he found it “troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentary.” After conceding that he had “already admitted to being a playboy,” Mr. Simmons, who has faced at least a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, said that he had “never been violent or forced myself on anyone.”

The day before Mr. Simmons’s Instagram post, the rapper 50 Cent used his own Instagram account to post a 2014 image of Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Simmons posing happily together with the comment, “I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men.”

Ms. Winfrey’s departure is a blow to Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering. The filmmakers had chronicled stories of sexual harassment and abuse even before the #MeToo movement came to prominence. For the new documentary, which also addresses black women’s relationship with the #MeToo movement, they spent two years tracking down Ms. Dixon and other women with accusations against Mr. Simmons.

Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering said in a statement on Friday that, because the “#MeToo experiences of black women deserve to be heard,” they still planned to take the film to Sundance.

“Revealing hard truths is never easy, and the women in our documentary are all showing extraordinary strength and courage by raising their voices to address sexual abuse in the music industry,” the filmmakers said in a statement. “While we are disappointed that Oprah Winfrey is no longer an executive producer on the project, we are gratified that Winfrey has unequivocally said she believes and supports the survivors in the film.”

The difficulties surrounding the project represent another challenge to Apple, a newcomer to the film and television business whose streaming platform went live in November. Last month, the company shelved another high-profile film, “The Banker,” a civil rights drama based on a true story starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson, after a relative of its real-life protagonist accused her brother, a co-producer on the film, of sexual abuse.

Ms. Winfrey’s departure from the Simmons film was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

In her statement, Ms. Winfrey called Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering “talented filmmakers,” adding, “I have great respect for their mission but given the filmmakers’ desire to premiere the film at the Sundance Film Festival before I believe it is complete, I feel it’s best to step aside. I will be working with Time’s Up to support the victims and those impacted by abuse and sexual harassment.”


NYT > Business

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Harvey Weinstein Faces Life in Prison as His Trial—And a Test of the #MeToo Movement—Begins

Harvey Weinstein Faces Life in Prison as His Trial—And a Test of the #MeToo Movement—Begins | Fortune

Source: Leadership – Fortune