Com­pa­nies now quick to act on allegations

Delay in re­spond­ing to harassment scan­dals may cast them as un­car­ing or eva­sive

Gulf News - - From The Cover - BY SAMANTHA MASUNAGA

Lurid allegations of sex­ual mis­con­duct and sex­ual harassment law­suits swirled for years around for­mer Amer­i­can Ap­parel founder and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Dov Char­ney.

As early as 2004, a reporter from Jane mag­a­zine wrote that Char­ney mas­tur­bated in front of her. (Char­ney has as­serted that the act was con­sen­sual. In a follow-up story, the reporter said she was not a vic­tim and was not ex­ploited.) A year later, for­mer em­ploy­ees filed law­suits that claimed he fon­dled him­self in front of them or ap­peared in the of­fice only in his un­der­wear.

Im­proper be­hav­iour

It wasn’t un­til sum­mer 2014 that the Los An­ge­les com­pany’s board sus­pended Char­ney as pres­i­dent and CEO, cit­ing allegations of im­proper be­hav­iour and mis­use of com­pany funds. By the end of the year, Char­ney was of­fi­cially fired.

That was then. In to­day’s post-Har­vey We­in­stein era, em­ploy­ers are tak­ing days, rather than months, to deal with ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

The ac­cel­er­ated re­sponses to harassment scan­dals re­flect a cal­cu­la­tion by or­gan­i­sa­tions that any delay could cast them as un­car­ing or eva­sive — and land them on the wrong side of so­cial me­dia and news re­ports swirling around each new scandal.

“You want to re­port your bad news,” said Tracy Wil­liams, chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Olm­stead Wil­liams Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a cri­sis and rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment firm based in Los An­ge­les. “If some­body else re­ports it, then it looks like you’ve been hid­ing, which is the worst thing you can do.”

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, NBC re­ported its own bad news first — abruptly an­nounc­ing that To­day show co-an­chor Matt Lauer had been fired after the net­work re­ceived a de­tailed com­plaint on Mon­day about “in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­iour in the work­place.” En­ter­tain­ment trade pub­li­ca­tion Va­ri­ety later re­ported that Lauer had been ac­cused of sex­ual harassment by mul­ti­ple women.

That same day, Gar­ri­son Keil­lor said he was fired by Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio after the news or­gan­i­sa­tion said it was no­ti­fied last month of allegations of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour while Keil­lor was re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion.

The lat­est re­sponses are not only swift but, in many cases, sweep­ing. Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio said it would stop re­broad­cast­ing The Best of A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion, hosted by Keil­lor, and end dis­tri­bu­tion

and broad­cast of his show, The Writer’s Al­manac.

Net­flix halted pro­duc­tion of its hit se­ries House of Cards amid allegations that ac­tor Kevin Spacey had com­mit­ted harassment and as­sault — in some cases to­ward mi­nors — and Sony Pictures dropped the ac­tor from his lead role as J. Paul Getty in the up­com­ing film All the Money in the World. Spacey’s scenes were re-shot with ac­tor Christopher Plum­mer.

And not only did po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Mark Halperin lose his job at NBC after allegations of sex­ual harassment, but Pen­guin Press pulled the plug on his book about the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“The process of analysing allegations and mak­ing de­ter­mi­na­tions about mis­con­duct hasn’t changed,” said Stephen Hirschfeld, found­ing part­ner and co-man­ag­ing part­ner at em­ploy­ment and higher ed­u­ca­tion law firm Hirschfeld Krae­mer. “What has changed is the pres­sure that em­ploy­ers feel un­der right now to move quicker, to be more de­ci­sive with the de­ci­sions and, in some cases, to pub­li­cise their ac­tions.”

Com­pa­nies have a number of rea­sons to act quickly. The height­ened pub­lic sen­si­tiv­ity to sex­ual mis­con­duct after the We­in­stein scandal means that brands’ rep­u­ta­tions — and their mar­ket value — could take a hit if con­sumers deem that firms aren’t tak­ing allegations se­ri­ously.

“We re­ally are in a pe­riod where there’s height­ened consumer aware­ness, in gen­eral, of com­pa­nies’ so­cial poli­cies, their en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies,” said Rose­mary Batt, the Alice Cook pro­fes­sor of women and work at Cor­nell Univer­sity.

The process of analysing allegations and mak­ing de­ter­mi­na­tions about mis­con­duct hasn’t changed. What has changed is the pres­sure that em­ploy­ers feel un­der right now to move quicker, to be more de­ci­sive with the de­ci­sions.” Stephen Hirschfeld | Found­ing part­ner at Hirschfeld Krae­mer


Par­tic­i­pants rally out­side CNN’s Hol­ly­wood stu­dios on Sun­set Boule­vard to take a stand against sex­ual as­sault and harassment for the #MeToo March in Los An­ge­les.

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