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CBS Chief Les Moonves Is Stepping Down After More Women Accuse Him of Sexual Harassment and Assault

Six women accused CBS C.E.O. Les Moonves of sexual harassment in late July, and now, after an additional six women came forward on Sunday, the media executive is stepping down from the company. 

CNN first reported the news, which came quickly after the Sunday morning report from Ronan Farrow — the journalist whose coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal helped spark the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — was published. The New Yorker article, which served as a follow-up to Farrow’s initial report about Moonves’ alleged harassment, detailed new accusations from six women who said Moonves sexually harassed or assaulted them in incidents that took place between the 1980s through the early 2000s. 

“They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them,” Farrow reported. “A number of the women also said that Moonves retaliated after they rebuffed him, damaging their careers.”

One of the women, Phyliss Golden-Gottlieb, said she even filed a criminal complaint against Moonves late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department. She accused him of “physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents.”

Golden-Gottlieb worked with Moonves at Lorimar Television in the 1980s. Despite law enforcement officials saying that her allegations were “credible” and “consistent,” prosecutors declined to pursue charges because the crimes’ statue of limitations had expired. 

Writer Jessica Pallingston also accused Moonves of forcing her to perform oral sex on him. She worked as his assistant in the 1990s, and after this happened, she said she repelled his sexual advances. This prompted him to become hostile, at one point even calling her a “cunt.” 

Moonves provided Farrow with a statement that acknowledged all three of these encounters, but he said they were consensual. “The appalling accusations in this article are untrue. What is true is that I had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS,” the statement read. “And I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women. In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.”

The New Yorker article detailed additional incidents of “unwanted kissing or touching by Moonves,” bringing the total number of accusers to 12. 

The CBS board of directors issued a separate statement: “CBS takes these allegations very seriously. Our Board of Directors is conducting a thorough investigation of these matters, which is ongoing,” CBS said in a statement. A representative for the CBS board reiterated the focus on the investigation in a separate statement. “The CBS Board of Directors is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of the allegations, and that investigation is actively underway.”

CBS launched the investigation after Farrow’s first report. According to Variety, it was the initial report that also started negotiations between Moonves and the CBS board on an exit agreement. He was initially set to receive a reported severance package of $100 million or more; however, many quickly spoke out against the possibility. 

The Time’s Up advocacy group also condemned the potential payout. “A man accused of rigorously reported allegations of harassment should not be rewarded with a golden parachute,” a spokesperson for the group said in a statement. “Les Moonves walking away with a $100 million settlement sends a message to survivors everywhere that powerful men can act without fear of consequence. We remain in solidarity with the six women who bravely shared their stories, risking their own incomes and careers, as well as the untold other women who may still be afraid to speak out.”

The statement continued, “One hundred million dollars is an enormous sum of money. In fact, it’s more than the average American woman will earn over the course of 50 lifetimes. Rather than reward an alleged predator, this $100 million could fund the legal defenses of countless women and men facing workplace harassment and abuse across the country.” Time’s Up included a link to its own Go Fund Me page, urging CBS leaders to “use this money to provide power and justice to victims of abuse.”

Pallingston called the possible exit package “completely disgusting.” 

“He should take all that money and give it to an organization that helps survivors of sexual abuse,” she said. After receiving backlash, it appears that’s what CBS is now doing. Late Sunday afternoon, Farrow reported that “Moonves will no longer receive any of his exit compensation, pending the results of the independent investigation into the allegations, and that a portion of the amount he would have received will be donated to organizations focussed on sexual harassment and assault.”

CNN reported that CBS’ lawyers were finalizing details on Sunday, and a deal will be announced by Monday morning. 

Follow Allison on Twitter @AllisonMCrist.
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