Former Universal Pictures marketing chief Josh Goldstine has won a multimillion-dollar legal judgment against the studio in a case that an arbitrator appears to have deemed a devastating misfire of the #MeToo era.
In February 2018, top NBCUniversal executives Jeff Shell and Donna Langley sent a memo to staff announcing that the film studio’s president of worldwide marketing was being suspended and investigated for “inappropriate conduct.” No details were given, but the strong implication was that Goldstine had committed a #MeToo offense. Three weeks later, Goldstine was fired. The episode was widely reported in the press. (Sister division NBC News had fired Matt Lauer for alleged misconduct a few months earlier, in November 2017.)
Finding himself unemployable, Goldstine initiated legal action. Now, thanks to an arbitration award this month said to be in the ballpark of $20 million, he never has to work again, though Goldstine says in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that returning to the workplace has been his goal all along.
“I could not have survived this nightmare had it not been for the unwavering support of my family and our tremendous network of friends,” Goldstine says. “I am eternally grateful to all of them and cannot wait to get back to doing what we have all been fighting for: getting a job and creating great work.” He declined further comment. NBCUniversal has declined comment.
On Feb. 14, 2018, Shell — then Universal Filmed Entertainment Chairman and now NBCU CEO — and Universal film studio chief Langley sent a note to staff saying they were conducting an investigation of the marketing department. The executives said they had received information that was “detailed, and we believe both credible and indicative of an unacceptable climate.”
They added: “We commend the people who have had the courage to come forward. We have no tolerance for harassment or other disrespectful behavior, and we will be taking any necessary steps to ensure that actions that violate our core values are dealt with swiftly and decisively.” Goldstine was suspended and Seth Byers, then executive vp creative strategy and research, was fired. Goldstine was then terminated on March 6.
Details of the retired judge’s decision in the private arbitration are confidential, so it remains unclear why Goldstine was fired in the first place and what reasoning formed the basis for the judge’s decision. Separately, Byers later secured a letter from NBC Universal saying he “was not terminated as a result of any physical or sexual assault, sexual relationships, quid pro quo, or inappropriate touching.”
Goldstine’s attorney, Andy Baum of the Glaser Weil law firm, says his client initially was not looking to take on NBCU. (According to sources, Goldstine had to take out a mortgage on his house to cover the roughly $3 million cost of the litigation.) But Baum says Goldstine changed his mind in May 2018 after an unsuccessful job hunt. “I spoke to general counsels and executives from a number of companies interested in hiring Josh, but they all said Universal’s statements and the linking of Josh to #MeToo issues made him toxic,” says the attorney.
Goldstine had joined Universal as president of domestic marketing in 2011 and was promoted to worldwide marketing chief in 2014.
Jan. 20, 7 p.m. Updated to include details of Byers’ letter.