Les Moonves Fired For Cause By CBS, Won’t Receive $120M Severance

The CBS board said its former CEO misled the company about harassment allegations

When Les Moonves left CBS in September, the company said his severance would be subject to the results of its investigation into harassment allegations. Getty Images

Former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves will depart the company without his $120 million payout, the CBS board of directors said Monday night.

Moonves, who had led CBS since 2007, left the company in September after he was accused by 12 women of sexual harassment and intimidation in two New Yorker articles published in July and in September.

At the time of his exit, the board said his nine-figure severance package would be subject to the result of its investigation into Moonves, CBS News and cultural issues at the company raised by the New Yorker stories. A month earlier, soon after the first New Yorker story about Moonves was published, CBS hired two firms—Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton—to invest the allegations.

On Monday, the board said the investigation had been completed, and that Moonves would be fired for cause after he misled the company and its investigation into the allegations.

“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,” according to a statement from the CBS board of directors.

The board continued, “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.”

As a result, further initiatives to improve working conditions are underway, including appointing a new “chief people officer.”

Three weeks ago, the New York Times printed some of the damning allegations unearthed by investigators, including that as the harassment allegations between to swirl this year, Moonves had tried to silence one accusing by getting her a role on a CBS show.

According to a late November draft of the investigators’ report reviewed by the Times, Moonves “engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995.”

Andrew Levander, a Moonves attorney, said in a statement Monday night that the board’s “baseless” conclusions “were foreordained and are without merit.” He added, “Mr. Moonves vehemently denies any non-consensual sexual relations and cooperated extensively and fully with investigators.”

Moonves and CBS said when he left the company that they would donate $20 million, originally earmarked for part of his severance, to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.

On Friday, CBS announced the 18 organizations that would be receiving the $20 million, including the National Women’s Law Center, RAINN, Time’s Up Entertainment and the Women’s Media Center.

Moonves said in a statement back when his departure was announced that the allegations were “untrue” and “not consistent with who I am. … I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company.”

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.