Leslie Moonves, a titan of TV over the past two decades, stepped down as chief executive at CBS on Sunday night, hours after a new round of women stepped forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
In a statement released shortly after 7 p.m., the CBS board of directors announced that the 68-year-old Moonves–who denies allegations of forcing himself on women–will immediately depart from his duties as chairman, president, and chief executive officer at the company he has led for 15 years.
The announcement came hours after The New Yorker published sexual misconduct allegations from six additional women that include physical violence, intimidation and forced oral sex.
As part of his settlement to leave the company, Moonves will donate $20 million of his severance package to “one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace,” the company said. The payment will be made immediately and deducted from any severance benefits due to Moonves, the board said.
Moonves will not receive any severance payment until an independent investigation into the allegations is complete, other than compensation and benefits that he has accrued and vested, the board said.
As part of the agreement, the company announced that six members of the board were replaced with new directors, including three women, and that Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello will serve as president and acting CEO while the board conducts a search for a permanent successor.
The prospect of a golden parachute for Moonves, a severance that some reports has put around $100 million, was the catalyst to the latest round allegations against Moonves, said New Yorker investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, who broke the Moonves news earlier this summer and wrote the follow-up story that was published Sunday morning.
Appearing on CNN, Farrow said the latest round of women to come forward did so now because “they have been extraordinarily frustrated by what they perceive to be inaction on the part of CBS and its board. And that really is integral to what prompted this follow-up story.”
Farrow noted that unlike outcomes in other #MeToo cases, the women were particularly frustrated to see that Moonves had been “allowed to stay and continue to run the company” and were determined he doesn’t receive any compensation.
“As of a couple of days ago, they were still talking about potentially letting him leave with a very generous exit package, up to the neighborhood of $100 million,” Farrow said. “They felt this was a board that has let a powerful man who makes a lot of money for this company, in the words of one person, ‘get away with it.’”
Jessica Pallingston, a writer who told The New Yorker that Moonves coerced her into oral sex in the 1990s, called the potential settlement “completely disgusting.” “He should take all that money and give it to an organization that helps survivors of sexual abuse,” she told the publication.
After reading the story, actress Rachel Bloom, who stars in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW, which is co-owned by CBS, tweeted that as a company employees she thinks Moonves “should be fired without getting a fucking dollar.”
“The actions described in this article are those of sexual assault and shame on anyone else in the corporation who knew about his crimes,” she said.
Actor Charlie McDermott, who appears on the CBS-produced Netflix series Unbelievable, tweeted that a nine-figure severance package “is hardly punishment for decades of targeted abuse toward female employees. It’s disgusting.”
The new accusers—who bring the total tally to 12—told The New Yorker of far more serious allegations than those first made against the longtime executive in July. Describing incidents that allegedly occurred between the 1980s and early 2000s, several of the women also said Moonves set out to destroy their careers when they rebuffed his advances.
Veteran TV executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb reportedly filed a criminal complaint against Moonves in Los Angeles last year, accusing him of physically restraining her and forcing her to give him oral sex. Describing her 1986 encounter with Moonves to The New Yorker, Golden-Gottlieb said she’d agreed to go out with him only to lunch, but he surprised her by taking her to a secluded area where she says, he “grabbed my head and he took it all the way down onto his penis, and pushed his penis into my mouth.”
Golden-Gottlieb didn’t report it at the time, she said, because she knew he was “the new golden boy” at the Lorimar-Telepictures production company where the two worked together. Golden-Gottlieb said Moonves “absolutely ruined” her career when she rejected him years later.
Prosecutors reportedly found Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations to be credible but declined to press charges because the statute of limitations had expired. Several other women described similar incidents of unwanted touching, forced oral sex, and aggressive behavior.
Moonves, for his part, denied the latest allegations just hours before news of his departure broke on Sunday, admitting to “consensual relations” with three of the women but argued that the “disturbing accusations” in the report are part of a smear campaign.
In a statement late Sunday night, he doubled down, saying: “Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am... I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of director and all of its employees.”
Time’s Up, the movement against sexual harassment set up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, has called on CBS to provide complete transparency in its investigation of Moonves. “CBS, as you sit in a room debating next steps to rectify the damage done, remember that the world is watching,” the organization said in a statement Sunday.