Les Moonves, one of the highest-paid CEOs in the world, stepped down as the chief executive of CBS on Sunday amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment.
Whether he will end up with millions of dollars in his pocket on his way out is now the main question on many people’s minds.
Moonves’s departure comes about a month after the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow published an investigation describing rampant sexual harassment at the network, including claims from six women who accused Moonves of groping and kissing them against their will during business meetings at CBS. Several said Moonves sabotaged their careers, or threatened to, after they rejected him.
Moonves, 68, didn’t directly address the individual cases described in that report, but told the New Yorker that he never engaged in nonconsensual sexual encounters and denied retaliating against anyone.
“I always understood and respected—and abided by the principle—that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career,” he said in a statement to the New Yorker.
A second report, published Sunday by the New Yorker, included sexual assault and harassment allegations against Moonves from six more women. Moonves denied the claims.
Since then, CBS has hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations, and has reportedly been negotiating an exit package for Moonves to the tune of $180 million.
CBS has said Moonves will not get any severance money until the investigation is complete, while also suggesting that he will probably get some sort of severance.
Moonves’s contract with CBS, which is publicly available on the US Securities and Exchange Commission website, states quite clearly what is supposed to happen. He is entitled to $0 severance if he is fired for violating the company’s anti-sexual harassment policies.
If the investigation finds out that Moonves did violate the rules, and he still manages to walk away with a fat check, Moonves will have proven that #MeToo is no match for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Moonves’s contract is explicit about how much money he should get
Moonves is arguably the most powerful man toppled by the #MeToo movement so far. He is the only CEO of a Fortune 500 company to lose his job over sexual harassment allegations since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year, and he is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the world. He earned a total of $69.3 million in compensation in fiscal year 2017 — 595 times more than the median salary at CBS.
His job contract with CBS states quite clearly how much money he should get if he is fired for sexual harassment: zero. That means no salary, no cash compensation, no health benefits, no bonuses, no long-term stock awards. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Those are the terms if he is fired “for cause.” In his contract, “for cause” includes fraud, embezzlement and felony conviction, and a willful violation of the company’s code of conduct, “including, but not limited to, policies concerning insider trading or sexual harassment.”
Here are the numbers:
The allegations against Moonves, if corroborated, seem like a clear violation of the company’s anti-harassment policies. Here is an excerpt from the company’s code of conduct published in 2016, which is the most recent one available to the public online:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are sexual harassment when
■ Submission to the conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of the individual’s employment.
■ Submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual (such as a promotion or a bonus).
■ Or the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
If the investigation finds Moonves at fault for violating the company’s code, he should walk away with nothing. The suggestion that he still might leave with millions means that he found a loophole to make these misconduct clauses irrelevant.
CBS is being tight-lipped about the terms of his departure
In a statement released Sunday, CBS did not mention the nature of Moonves’s departure. The statement does not say Moonves was terminated, it merely says he is leaving the company as part of “the settlement” with the board of directors. Vox contacted multiple spokespeople at CBS, requesting more details and clarification about the terms of his departure, but has received no response as of the time of publication.
It’s possible that Moonves left voluntarily. His contract says he can leave the company “for good reason” and still get millions in severance for various reasons, including a turnover on the company’s board of directors. CBS has been involved in a battle among board members over a potential merger, and Sunday’s announcement included news that six of the board members would be replaced.
But CBS’s statement does not directly say that Moonves was voluntarily leaving; rather, it says he will not get severance payments until the investigation is complete, and that he will give money to a #MeToo organization.
“Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace,” the statement reads. “The donation, which will be made immediately, has been deducted from any severance benefits that may be due Moonves following the Board’s ongoing independent investigation led by Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton.”
That they already plan to deduct the money from his severance seems like a pretty good indicator that Moonves will not walk away from the scandal empty-handed.
A few hours before CBS’s announcement, the TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal aid to workers who experience sexual harassment, warned CBS that “the world is watching.”
“We will accept nothing less than full transparency of the investigation’s findings, a commitment to real change across all levels of CBS management and no reward for Les Moonves,” the statement read.