L.A. Times Publisher Taking Leave of Absence Amid Investigation

Ross Levinsohn - 2013 Billboard Afterparty - Getty - H 2018
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An outside law firm will conduct an investigation into allegations regarding Ross Levinsohn's past conduct that surfaced Thursday.

Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn has "voluntarily" agreed to take an unpaid leave of absence from the newspaper, a day after NPR reported that he was named in two sexual harassment lawsuits that pertain to his past conduct.

Justin Dearborn, the chief executive of parent company Tronc, made the announcement in an email to Times employees on Friday. The law firm Sidley Austin LLP will conduct "a review of the allegations regarding his behavior," Dearborn said. (Levinsohn served as CEO of The Hollywood Reporter's former parent company, Guggenheim Digital Media, from January 2013 to June 2014.)

"I want to re-emphasize to you all that the company takes any allegations of inappropriate behavior by its employees very seriously," Dearborn said in the email. "It is critical that in any such circumstances we conduct a thorough review so that we have a full understanding of what happened. We will not hesitate to take further action, if appropriate, once the review is complete."

In a lengthy story on Thursday, NPR's David Folkenflik reported that a former employee of the search engine AltaVista had named Levinsohn, among other executives, in a lawsuit. Levinsohn, who worked for the company in 1999 and 2000, testified in the case. "Levinsohn conceded under oath that he had assessed the 'hotness' and bodies of female subordinates," according to the report. "Levinsohn also testified that he had discussed whether a female subordinate was working as a stripper on the side and that he engaged in speculation about whether she had slept with a co-worker." The case was settled.

A few years later, Levinsohn was named in a lawsuit stemming from his tenure as an executive at News Corp. In the suit, an employee "alleged that when she asked Levinsohn for a promotion, he pointed to a Fox Sports sideline reporter, a former pinup model, as a template for success, saying she "learned how to work her way to the top." After leaving the company, Levinsohn went on to several other high-profile media gigs, including a stint as a Yahoo executive.

He was also accused in the report of using a gay slur when explaining to an executive why he didn't want to attend a 2013 luncheon held by THR.

After the NPR report landed, an organizing committee of Times employees put out a statement calling for Levinsohn's resignation or termination. (On Friday, Times employees voted to form a union.)

Times employees have been very vocal on Twitter in calling for Tronc to take action against Levinsohn. The organizing committee also wrote on Jan. 10 to protest plans to move the company's headquarters to the Westside.

Levinsohn became publisher in August, following the departure of Davan Maharaj, who had served as both top editor and publisher of the newspaper. He also serves on Tronc's board of directors.