Here’s something worth watching: CBS has announced a raft of measures to improve its ethics and compliance program, after blistering headlines about sexual harassment and retaliation in its executive offices and on the sets of its TV programs.
Most notably, CBS will place “human resources production partners” on set at all of its programs, so actors and other staff will have someone they can approach with any complaints. That seems directly related to Michael Weatherly, star of CBS’ hit show Bull. He was accused in December of harassing co-star Eliza Dushku, and then squeezing her off the show in 2016 when Dushku complained about his behavior to CBS executives.
CBS also said it has hired a new chief ethics and compliance officer, Hazel Mayers. Mayers started the job in March, after working since 2015 as general counsel at Simon & Schuster — but Mayers also previously worked at CBS for 12 years before that, as assistant general counsel and chief compliance officer.
In this second tour of duty at CBS Mayers has been bumped upstairs, since she also has the title of executive vice president, in addition to chief ethics and compliance officer.
One assumes this means that Mayers will be the boss of Mark Engstrom, CBS’s former chief compliance officer and the person who succeeded Mayer when she left. Engstrom dropped the “chief compliance officer” part of his title in February, and is back to being associate general counsel for labor relations.
Engstrom rose to notoriety in December when news of Dushku’s complaint against Weatherly first broke. While Dushku was negotiating an exit settlement with CBS, Engstrom released outtakes of Bull that showed Dushku swearing on set, believing they would strengthen CBS’s rebuttals of her claims. Instead, the outtakes captured Weatherly’s alleged harassment on film.
As a New York Times article described things in an article at the time:
Although [outside] investigators praised Mr. Engstrom for his “tremendous institutional knowledge” and described him as a “smart and very capable lawyer,” they said the company’s failure to recognize the instances of harassment caught on tape was a symptom of larger problems at CBS, according to the draft of their report.
CBS also says it will soon install a new confidential reporting system for employees, staffed by “professionals outside of CBS,” which I take to mean some compliance vendor just landed a sweet new contract. The company will also begin new, in-person anti-harassment training for CBS Studios, “as well as customized training as necessary.”
All this comes from a memo CBS circulated to employees on Monday, which was promptly leaked to TheWrap.com, an entertainment industry news website.
The memo says Mayers will be “centralizing the employee relations function and reporting procedures,” so I’ll be curious to see how her role will intersect with the network’s human resources function.
CBS also said this about its on-site HR teams:
The main headline is that we will have a very expanded and visible Human Resources structure supporting all CBS Studios’ productions. A big part of this will be the introduction of “human resources production partners” assigned to all shows. These will be highly trained HR executives who will be on our sets on a regular basis to ensure safety and build trust with the cast, producers and staff. These production partners will provide a recognizable name and face for everyone on set, regardless of title, to confidentially discuss any potential workplace situation.
Previously on ‘CBS Misconduct’
CBS has been under a heap of scrutiny in the last 18 months. Let’s do a quick recap.
First was Charlie Rose, co-host of CBS This Morning until November 2017, when he was fired amid allegations that he harassed female coworkers. CBS also faced lawsuits from those women that the network of turning a blind eye to his behavior.
Then came the episode with Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes; he was fired last summer for threatening a CBS News reporter who had been investigation allegations that Fager committed sexual misconduct. And Fager’s misconduct is not to be confused with his predecessor Don Hewitt, who founded 60 Minutes in 1968. Hewitt, who died in 2009, had his own transgressions, and in one instance CBS agreed to pay a victim $75,000 annually in exchange for her silence. Apparently CBS has paid this woman more than $5 million to date.
The show-stopper, however, is the sordid tale of former CEO Les Moonves, who had been a senior executive at the network from 1995 until he was sacked last September. In July 2018, the New Yorker published an article where six women accused Moonves of harassment or sexual misconduct; since then, dozens more have stepped forward to say the same.
An internal investigation later said Moonves “received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional” and that he also destroyed evidence and misled investigators. Eventually the board pushed Moonves out, and then reconstituted itself for more diversity.
You get the idea: for far too long, CBS was an over-testosteroned mess of a corporate culture. Now the company is trying to clean up its act and its reputation.
Let’s see how that story line unfolds next season.