Vice has settled with four women who alleged defamation or that executives at the brash youth media company, including president Andrew Creighton, sexually harassed them, according to an exposé from the New York Times.
The report details how Vice and its top executives have fostered a “boys’ club” culture where women often felt degraded or uncomfortable. That includes incidents where employees described unwanted advances from co-workers or superiors, or detailed feeling pressured to enter into sexual relationships with their supervisors.
In a lengthy statement posted to the Vice website Saturday morning, co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi admitted that “we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.”
Vice is among many media and entertainment companies that have faced increased scrutiny about how they handle harassment against their employees in the months since several women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault.
The Times says it spoke with more than 20 women who said they experienced sexual harassment or saw it take place.
In November, The Daily Beast released a report detailing a toxic workplace environment for women that led to the suspension, and later firing, of Jason Mojica, the head of Vice’s documentary film unit, over sexual harassment allegations.
Mojica was also named in the Times report. According to the story, Vice settled with a former employee, Martina Veltroni, who alleged that Mojica, her supervisor, retaliated against her following a sexual relationship.
The other settlements, per the Times, include a payment of $135,000 to an unnamed employee in 2016 after she claimed that she was fired for rejecting a relationship with Creighton. Meanwhile, a former Vice London journalist, Joanna Fuertes Knight, was paid $24,000 last January after she alleged that she was a victim of sexual harassment, bullying and racial and gender discrimination from Vice producer Rhys James. Vice told the Times that it had put James on leave in November.
In another instance, Vice paid $25,000 in 2003 in a settlement involving a female writer, Jessica Hopper, who alleged that the magazine changed an interview she conducted with the rapper Murs to make it seem as though she agreed to have sex with him, when she says she didn’t.
Vice responded to the Times by acknowledging that it had settled with a few employees over the years but that no employee had been involved in more than one settlement. A spokesman also told the Times that in some cases, “we disagree with the way in which the underlying facts have been characterized.”
Founded in 1994 as a alternative punk magazine in Montreal, Vice has long proudly embraced its outsider culture. Smith, Vice’s CEO, regularly gave interviews during the company’s early years in which he boasted about the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll workplace environment. But as Vice has grown larger, scrutiny on the company’s treatment of its employees, especially female staffers, has increased. Vice now counts Disney, 21st Century Fox and TPG as its investors and Smith has discussed his ambitions to take the company public.
In the statement posted Saturday, Smith and Alvi acknowledged that “cultural elements from our past, dysfunction and mismanagement were allowed to flourish unchecked…. It happened on our watch, and ultimately we let far too many people down.”
The company is taking steps to reform and has introduced several new policies in recent weeks as sexual harassment allegations have plagued Hollywood and the media industry. It has established an advisory board made up of feminist activist Gloria Steinem and other high-profile female executives and lawyers that will suggest changes to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture. Vice also says it is working to achieve pay parity by the end of 2018, and has set up a hotline to allow employees to anonymously report problems, including sexual harassment.
Further, Vice has done away with the nontraditional workplace agreement that it previously required employees to sign, something that some former staffers have pointed to as helping to foster a discriminatory environment.