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CBS settles with ex-CEO Leslie Moonves after 2018 sexual harassment allegations

Leslie Moonves
Les Moonves, former chairman and CEO of CBS, in 2017.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Broadcasting giant CBS and former Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, who was ousted from the company in 2018 amid allegations of sexual harassment, have settled their contentious dispute over the longtime television executive’s exit package.

“The disputes between Mr. Moonves and CBS have now been resolved,” ViacomCBS said Friday afternoon in a statement.

In the joint statement with ViacomCBS, Moonves said he would donate the entire settlement award to charity. The amount was not disclosed.

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The media company declined to discuss details of the settlement, but the company did not have to make any payments.

After an exhaustive four-month investigation, the company’s board of directors in December 2018 stripped Moonves of his $120-million severance over allegations of sexual misconduct.

The board had hired two law firms in August 2018 — Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton — to investigate Moonves’ conduct and CBS’ corporate culture.

The firms were retained days after the New Yorker magazine published an investigation that detailed allegations of misconduct against the executive by multiple women. Moonves, who resigned under pressure in September 2018, denied wrongdoing and contested the findings. He filed to have the matter resolved in arbitration, leading to the settlement announced Friday.

As part of the agreement, Moonves received some compensation from Covington & Burling, sources said.

The law firm’s handling of private information about individuals — including those who had accused Moonves of sexual harassment — became a major sticking point.

Leaked documents detailing findings of the investigators were funneled to the New York Times and became the basis of a series of stories. The leaks, which sources said were traced to Covington & Burling, weakened CBS’ case against Moonves. People who participated in the review, including Moonves, had been granted confidentiality. But some of the accusers’ identities soon became public.

ViacomCBS did not name Covington & Burling in the statement. Instead the company referenced a “contractor to CBS.”

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“The cost of the settlement will be borne by the contractor,” Moonves and ViacomCBS said in the joint statement. “Mr. Moonves has decided to contribute the entire settlement amount to various charities. There will be no further comment regarding this settlement by Mr. Moonves or CBS.”

Covington & Burling declined to comment.

On Friday, Debevoise & Plimpton defended its conduct in the investigation.

“Debevoise is not party to any agreements with any parties concerning its work for CBS, and no one connected to the firm leaked any confidential information related to our work for CBS,” said a Debevoise spokesperson.

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Moonves’ final contract, which was due to expire this year, made him eligible to receive an exit deal valued at about $180 million, but after the scandal, the CBS board said he would not be paid the severance money. In 2019, Moonves filed papers to have the matter decided in arbitration.

The agreement resolves a lingering dispute about the payments to Moonves, which was scheduled to go to arbitration hearings this summer.


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