CBS picks groups to get $20 million for #MeToo causes, taken from Les Moonves’ severance

Les Moonves served as CBS chief executive for 12 years. Multiple women have accused him of making unwanted advances.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

CBS Corp. has divvied up $20 million among 18 groups, including the Producers Guild of America, to promote workplace safety and the elimination of sexual harassment — fulfilling a promise the company made in September when it severed ties with its longtime chief executive, Leslie Moonves.

Moonves agreed in September, as part of his separation agreement, to donate a portion of his severance to #MeToo causes. Separately, a high-level investigation into Moonves’ suspected misconduct is winding down. The findings of that review should determine whether CBS pays Moonves any additional severance.

On Friday, CBS awarded grants to the groups, including Women in Film Los Angeles, the National Women’s Law Center, Time’s Up Entertainment, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and the New York Women’s Foundation.


The Los Angeles-based Producers Guild of America, which has more than 8,000 members, was awarded $2 million to launch a program to combat sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, with a focus on independent or nonstudio productions.

Guild leaders said Friday that the Independent Production Safety Initiative, which will be administered through the guild’s foundation, will provide independent productions with no-cost access to professional, in-person training on issues of sexual harassment as well as free access to legal consultation. The program will offer such training to any production that has more than 20 people among its cast and crew and is being produced outside the Hollywood studio infrastructure, according to the PGA.

Smaller productions, with 20 or fewer people on set, will be eligible to attend group training sessions organized by the PGA and PGA Foundation, held on a quarterly basis at production centers around the country.

Some in Hollywood are calling the CBS money an important first step.

“We think it’s a good start. We hope there’s more,” Lucy Fisher, co-president of the PGA, said in an interview.

The guild is planning to launch its program within the next two months.

“Many of these productions don’t have the resources to be able to have this kind of anti-sexual-harassment training for the cast and crews,” said Gail Berman, PGA co-president. “We don’t look at it as a luxury anymore. We look at it as a necessity.”

Under the initiative, training sessions will take place before the start of physical production.

The program also offers two hours of free consultation — which can be used at any point during the production process — with a legal expert versed in the field of harassment law. This consultation will be available to any production that qualifies for and participates in the preproduction training.

Grant recipient Women in Film Los Angeles last year established a help line for women and men to report on-the-job harassment in the entertainment industry.

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, another grant recipient, has raised more than $20 million from other sources, part of which has been earmarked to help everyday people finance legal cases against their employers. Time’s Up Entertainment, a branch of the Time’s Up organization, said Friday that it would use $500,000 that it received from CBS to launch its “Who’s in the Room” initiative to diversify the producing and executive ranks of the entertainment industry by pushing companies to add more people of color and others who come from “a variety of economic and social backgrounds,” the group said in a statement.

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In addition, a donation was made to the Girls for Gender Equity organization in partnership with the Me Too group, which was created by Tarana Burke, who initially launched the #MeToo movement.

The donations come as CBS has been under the microscope. In July, the New Yorker magazine published allegations of sexual misconduct against Moonves, who had served as CBS’ chief executive since the company’s split with Viacom in 2006. Multiple women have since accused Moonves of making unwanted advances. The TV mogul has denied engaging in nonconsensual sexual conduct.

CBS News also has been rocked by scandal. Charlie Rose was ousted as co-anchor of “CBS This Morning” a year ago over allegations of sexual misconduct. Another blow came in September, when Jeff Fager’s long run as executive producer of the storied newsmagazine “60 Minutes” ended amid allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior.

CBS’ board hired two high-profile New York law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling, to look into the allegations of harassment by Moonves and the overall culture at CBS. Investigators have interviewed more than 350 people, including those who work at the corporate headquarters, CBS News in New York, and CBS Entertainment operations in Studio City and Los Angeles.

The investigators are expected to deliver a report to CBS’ board in the coming days, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Their findings will help determine whether the board has justification to fire Moonves for cause, which would deny him the remaining $120-million severance package.

The investigators, according to the draft report, have concluded that CBS’ board has justification to fire Moonves with cause. Moonves was “evasive and untruthful at times and … deliberately lied about, and minimized the extent of his sexual misconduct,” the draft report said.

Moonves, 69, has an estimated net worth of $700 million, according to Forbes.

His employment contract, which was extended last year, outlined a possible $140-million golden parachute should he leave on his own accord. But in September, CBS announced that $20 million of the proposed severance package would be redirected to organizations working to change workplace cultures. Two months ago, after being overwhelmed with requests for a portion of the money, CBS hired the group Rally to identify the organizations that could best use the money.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that CBS quietly paid actress Eliza Dushku a $9.5-million settlement in January. Dushku was written off the CBS television show “Bull” — after, she said, she confronted “Bull” star Michael Weatherly about comments that made her uncomfortable. CBS’ handling of the matter is part of the review by the investigators. Also this week, actress Cybill Shepherd said during a radio interview that her hit 1990s CBS sitcom was canceled after she spurned Moonves’ advances. She becomes one of the highest- profile women to allege misconduct by the longtime entertainment chief.

The show, “Cybill,” which was created by CBS hitmaker Chuck Lorre, ran four seasons. CBS canceled the show after it took a tumble in the ratings.

A representative of Moonves declined to comment.

Here is the full list of the CBS grant fund recipients:

  • Catalyst
  • Collaborative Fund for Women’s Safety and Dignity (Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors)
  • Free the Bid
  • Freedom Forum Institute – Power Shift Project
  • Futures Without Violence
  • Girls for Gender Equity / ‘me too.’ Movement
  • International Women’s Media Foundation
  • National Women’s Law Center
  • New York Women’s Foundation
  • Press Forward
  • Producers Guild of America Foundation
  • STRIVE International
  • Sundance Institute’s Momentum program
  • Time’s Up Entertainment
  • Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund
  • Women in Film Los Angeles
  • Women’s Media Center

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT