Vice Media placed its president, Andrew Creighton, and its chief digital officer, Mike Germano, on leave after sexual harassment allegations were reported against them in a New York Times investigation that detailed the treatment of women at the company.
Vice employees learned of the moves in a memo sent to the staff today.
Sarah Broderick, Vice’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said in the memo that a special committee of the company’s board was “reviewing the facts” related to a $135,000 settlement Creighton had reached in 2016 with a former employee, who claimed that she was fired after she rejected an intimate relationship with him, according to people briefed on the matter and documents viewed by the Times.
The committee plans to make a recommendation regarding the matter to senior management before the company’s Jan. 11 board meeting, and Creighton will remain out of the office on leave until then, Broderick said.
Broderick said that the allegations involving the 2016 settlement had been reviewed at the time by an independent law firm, the claim “was found to lack merit,” and the company had settled to “avoid the expense and distraction of litigation.”
In an earlier statement to The Times, Creighton apologized for the situation, said that he and the woman had been “close friends” and that they were “occasionally intimate” once she had begun working at Vice Media. He said he was not involved in the decision to let her go.
Vice also said that Germano would remain out of the office pending investigations by the company’s human resources department and an outside investigator into claims against him. Among the allegations against Germano are that he told a former employee at a holiday party in 2012 that he had not wanted to hire her because he wanted to have sex with her; and that, in 2014, he had pulled an employee onto his lap.
In an earlier statement, Germano said he did “not believe that these allegations reflect the company’s culture.”
The Times’ investigation, published on Dec. 23, found four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including Creighton. In addition, more than two dozen women said they had experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct at the company, including unwanted kisses, groping, lewd remarks and propositions for sex.
Following the article, a group of workers at Vice UK, the company’s British unit, published an open letter calling for an independent investigation, efforts to diversify hiring and the immediate suspension of men who have been named in allegations.
“We stand in solidarity with all the survivors who have come forward,” the letter read. “We believe them, and we believe that urgent change is necessary to make our workplace a fairer and safer place for all employees.”
Today, Broderick outlined a series of initiatives that she said were designed to “ensure all our employees feel respected and supported.” Those include the hiring of a new head of human resources, mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees and new community efforts, including the creation of affinity groups and mentoring. Broderick also said that the company was “committed to 50/50 male/female at every level across the organization by 2020 and pay parity by the end of 2018.”
Vice got its start in 1994 as a free magazine based in Montreal. Over the years it has grown into a global company with roughly 3,000 employees, a television network, a digital footprint and its own film-production company. It has a documentary program on HBO and counts among its investors the Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox.