Ex–CBS CEO Les Moonves Won't Get His $120 Million Severance After The Network Said He Interfered In Its Misconduct Investigation

As more women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations, the executive tried to use his power and influence to thwart investigators, CBS determined.

Former CBS CEO Les Moonves interfered with an internal investigation in an attempt to salvage his reputation amid a raft of sexual misconduct allegations and, as a result, will not receive $120 million in severance, the network announced Monday.

Moonves, who helped turn CBS into the most watched channel on television, negotiated a departure settlement in September amid allegations that he sexually harassed six women. More than 12 women ultimately came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CBS agreed to put $120 million into a trust, while attorneys hired by the board determined if Moonves could be terminated with cause.

During the course of the investigation, Moonves was reportedly interviewed four times, but the lawyers said they found him to be “evasive and untruthful,” according to the New York Times, which reviewed a draft of the report before it was announced. They also cited his "willful and material misfeasance, violation of company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to cooperate fully with the company’s investigation."

The lawyers reported that of the 17 women who had accused Moonves of misconduct or harassment, they found 11 of their accounts to be credible.

Investigators also concluded that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS. However, they did learn of past incidents of "improper and unprofessional conduct," and determined that the network's past policies were inadequate in preventing harassment and retaliation.

Moonves' attorney, Andrew Levander, said in a statement that the conclusions of the CBS board "were foreordained and are without merit."

"Consistent with the pattern of leaks that have permeated this ‘process,’ the press was informed of these baseless conclusions before Mr. Moonves, further damaging his name, reputation, career and legacy," Levander said. "Mr. Moonves vehemently denies any non-consensual sexual relations and cooperated extensively and fully with investigators."

Moonves' hefty severance package prompted heavy criticism of the possibility that he might get a “golden parachute” while allegations of misconduct were being investigated.

As part of his exit settlement, Moonves and CBS agreed to donate $20 million to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and "equality for women in the workplace," according to the company's statement.

The investigation into Moonves' behavior began in July when the New Yorker published a story that detailed sexual misconduct allegations from several women dating back to the 1980s. They also alleged that the CBS chief used his position of power to threaten to derail their careers if they spoke out. They and others also told the magazine that Moonves had fostered a company culture that allowed for rampant sexual harassment throughout his ranks.

After the New Yorker report was published, Moonves, 68, issued a statement acknowledging that he made mistakes and regrets them "immensely."

"I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances," he said.

His wife since 2004, CBS's Julie Chen, also posted a statement on Twitter, saying in July, "I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement."

Two months later, when the New Yorker published a second story detailing accusations against Moonves from six additional women, the executive continued to maintain that he had done nothing improper. Instead, he called some of the encounters consensual.

"Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am," Moonves said in a statement following CBS's announcement of his departure. "I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees."

Moonves' downfall also came as he was locked in a heated battle with Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom, to prevent her from attempting to merge the two companies.

Moonves has so far faced no criminal charges stemming from the allegations. In July, Los Angeles prosecutors declined to press charges based on allegations from a woman who told police in February that Moonves sexually assaulted her once in 1986 and twice in 1988, saying they fall outside the statute of limitations.

It's unclear how the departure of Moonves — who brought CBS from last to first place in overall viewers with hits like Everybody Loves Raymond, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and The Big Bang Theory — will affect the network he took over 20 years ago.

CBS experienced a record-setting second quarter, reporting revenue of $3.47 billion, up 6% compared to the same period last year, with net earnings of $400 million. And his recent big push into digital streaming, CBS All Access, has been an apparent success, with executives saying in August it has exceeded expectations.

Topics in this article

Skip to footer