Leslie Moonves Won't Get $120 Million in Severance, CBS Says

The company hired an investigative team that interviewed as many as 300 people, according to insiders, in order to get to the bottom of the allegations against the ousted CEO.

Leslie Moonves will not be getting his $120 million severance, as CBS concluded after a months-long investigation that there is, indeed, merit to numerous claims that its former CEO sexually harassed several women over the course of decades.

Word came of the decision Monday via a statement from CBS, and few were surprised. Only weeks earlier, several Wall Street analysts said they'd be shocked if the company paid Moonves the money it had set aside for him after he stepped down Sept. 9.

"With regard to Mr. Moonves, we have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his willful and material misfeasance, violation of Company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to cooperate fully with the Company’s investigation. Mr. Moonves will not receive any severance payment from the Company," the board announced. 

Moonves' attorney, Andrew Levander, countered, "The conclusions of the CBS board were foreordained and are without merit. Consistent with the pattern of leaks that have permeated this 'process', the press was informed of these baseless conclusions before Mr. Moonves, further damaging his name, reputation, career and legacy. Mr. Moonves vehemently denies any non-consensual sexual relations and cooperated extensively and fully with investigators."

CBS hired an investigative team that interviewed as many as 300 people, according to insiders, in order to get to the bottom of the allegations against Moonves after Ronan Farrow listed a half-dozen accusers in The New Yorker on July 27.

More came forward afterwards, and the final nail in the coffin may have come on Nov. 28, when The New York Times published an exhaustive account involving a little-known actress by the name of Bobbie Phillips and her agent, Marv Dauer.

The article alleged that Moonves, in the 1990s when he was president of Warner Bros. TV, met with Phillips at the studio lot and forced his penis into her mouth while promising her parts in hit shows if she'd be his "girlfriend," though he was married with three children at the time.

Decades later, when the #MeToo movement was afoot and Moonves was CEO of CBS, he reached out to Dauer to relay a message to his client — that being he could get her work in exchange for her silence, according to the Times. "If Bobbie talks, I'm finished," Moonves allegedly told Dauer.

After that devastating account, CBS was under the gun to wrap up its investigation of Moonves prior to the Jan. 31 deadline it had previously imposed on itself.

Since he stepped down as CEO, Moonves has been an unpaid adviser to CBS, with the company supplying him an office and security detail. That arrangement was set to last until September 2020. While CBS did not address his status as an unpaid adviser on Monday, it may be terminating that deal, as well.

The separation agreement between Moonves and CBS stipulated he'd only get the $120 million if an investigation cleared him of egregious behavior. The company also said at the time it was earmarking $20 million to donate to a variety of organizations dedicated to stamping out sexual harassment.

The news marks the official exit of Moonves from the entertainment industry, and he is easily the largest figure to be ousted from the ranks of Hollywood in the #MeToo era that began with a blockbuster report in October 2017 accusing Harvey Weinstein of harassing dozens of women throughout his career as a powerful movie and TV mogul. 

CBS' statement is below.

With regard to Mr. Moonves, we have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his willful and material misfeasance, violation of Company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to cooperate fully with the Company’s investigation. Mr. Moonves will not receive any severance payment from the Company.

As a result of their work, the investigators also concluded that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS. However, the investigators learned of past incidents of improper and unprofessional conduct, and concluded that the Company’s historical policies, practices and structures have not reflected a high institutional priority on preventing harassment and retaliation. The investigation determined that the resources devoted to the Company’s Human Resources function, to training and development, and to diversity and inclusion initiatives have been inadequate, given the size and complexity of CBS’ businesses. Employees also cited past incidents in which HR and the Company did not hold high performers accountable for their conduct and protect employees from retaliation.

The Board, which includes six new members, and the Company’s new management have already begun to take robust steps to improve the working environment for all employees. Among other things, the Company appointed a new Chief People Officer, is actively engaged in ways to enhance and reimagine the Human Resources function, and has retained outside expert advisors to develop other initiatives for promoting a workplace culture of dignity, transparency, respect and inclusion. These efforts will continue to be a high priority for the Board and the Company’s management, and we will continue to work together to communicate with our workforce in that regard.

We would like to thank everyone who cooperated with the investigation and applaud CBS’ employees for remaining focused on their jobs during this very difficult time. We look forward to the people of CBS returning their full attention to the outstanding work that they do every single day.