New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Wednesday secured a $30.5 million payment from CBS after she accused the media company of attempting cover up incidents of sexual harassment from former CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves.
In a 37-page report, James said CBS executives worked to conceal facts from shareholders and the public that would pose a risk to Moonves and the company, including through an attempted cover-up of a 2017 sexual assault report filed with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Moonves resigned as the head of CBS in 2018 after facing a slew of sexual harassment and physical and sexual assault allegations from at least 12 women.
James said in addition to attempting to cover up multiple instances of sexual misconduct, at least one CBS executive, former Chief Communications Officer Gil Schwartz, sold millions of dollars of company stock before the allegations became public, violating New York’s laws on insider trading.
“CBS and Leslie Moonves’ attempts to silence victims, lie to the public, and mislead investors can only be described as reprehensible,” the attorney general said in a statement. “As a publicly traded company, CBS failed its most basic duty to be honest and transparent with the public and investors.”
“Today’s action should send a strong message to companies across New York that profiting off injustice will not be tolerated and those who violate the law will be held accountable,” she added.
CBS will pay $28 million to the state, with $22 million of that going to CBS shareholders and the additional $6 million going toward bolstering the reporting and investigating process for complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
Moonves will pay $2.5 million, which will go toward CBS shareholders.
CBS, which is now owned by Paramount Global and is based in New York, will also have to reform human resources practices around sexual harassment and provide biannual reports to the New York Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, a spokesperson for Paramount said “We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle to resolve this matter concerning events from 2018 with the New York Attorney General’s Office, without any admission of liability or wrongdoing.”
According to the OAG report, the 2017 confidential sexual harassment report filed with the LAPD involved an attempted cover-up involving CBS executives and a police captain.
The OAG did not name the victim, but that year a police report was filed by Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, who said Moonves forced her to perform oral sex and also threw her against a wall in the 1980s.
According to the OAG, the unidentified LAPD captain allegedly shared an unredacted police report with CBS staff and Moonves and worked with the officer for months until the details about the assault became public.
The LAPD captain also allegedly ordered the investigating officer to contact and “admonish” the complainant to not speak with the press.
“We worked so hard to try to avoid this day. I am so completely sad,” the LAPD captain wrote in one text released by the OAG after the details were publicized.
New York prosecutors also allege that Moonves and CBS delivered misleading statements about the assault, including that they had just been learning of it when, in fact, they had been trying to cover up the incident.
The allegations against Moonves arose during a pivotal time during the #MeToo era, when women were stepping forward to tell stories about being harassed by powerful players in the business, media and entertainment world.
Moonves’s actions were reported by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, not long after sexual assault allegations were first reported on media mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was later convicted for rape.