Los Angeles Times Publisher and Chief Executive Ross Levinsohn was placed on an unpaid leave of absence Friday as the paper's parent company, Tronc, investigates allegations of inappropriate conduct while he was an executive at other companies.
Times President Mickie Rosen will lead the newspaper in Levinsohn's absence and Editor in Chief Lewis D'Vorkin will continue to manage the newsroom, Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn said in an email to employees. Rosen and D'Vorkin were both appointed to leadership roles in October.
Tronc said it has hired the law firm Sidley Austin LLP to review the allegations contained in a detailed report Thursday by National Public Radio. The report, by media correspondent David Folkenflik, found that Levinsohn was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits and that he allegedly engaged in "frat-boy" behavior in work settings before joining The Times on Aug. 21.
In addition, NPR reported that Levinsohn allegedly used sexist and homophobic language when talking with colleagues and subordinates. In one instance, Levinsohn acknowledged that he had rated the relative "hotness" of his female colleagues while he served as an executive at the search engine AltaVista in the early 2000s, according to court documents reviewed by NPR. He also said he speculated about whether a female subordinate had a side job as a stripper.
"I want to reemphasize to you all that the Company takes any allegations of inappropriate behavior by its employees very seriously," Dearborn said in a note to staff. "It is critical that in any such circumstances we conduct a thorough review so that we have a full understanding of what happened. We will not hesitate to take further action, if appropriate, once the review is complete."
Dearborn did not say how long the company expects the review to last. Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said it would take "as long as necessary to do a thorough review."
She added that the company conducted "standard background checks" on Levinsohn before he was hired and was unaware of the allegations until learning of them from NPR this week.
Times staffers late Thursday called on Tronc to fire Levinsohn, contending he was unfit to lead the news organization, especially as it has been aggressively pursuing allegations of sexual harassment by Sacramento politicians and Hollywood entertainment figures.
"Levinsohn has lost credibility as the leader of one of the country's top newspapers," newsroom employees wrote in a petition signed by more than 200 staff members and sent to Tronc's board. Senior editors separately vocalized their concerns to the board, writing, "Such behavior is unacceptable and jeopardizes The Times' 136-year legacy of integrity."
News of Levinsohn's absence came on a historic day for the Times, when staff members voted overwhelmingly to join the News Guild-Communications Workers of America.
4:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias.
2:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background and context.