A shareholder resolution urged NBC’s parent company, Comcast, to probe alleged failures to prevent workplace sexual harassment at the company, but Comcast/NBCUniversal petitioned the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to block the resolution before shareholders can chime in.
Arjuna Capital and UltraViolet, a leading women’s group, submitted a resolution last month saying Comcast shareholders should urge the board of directors to conduct an independent investigation into the company, which has been caught up in a variety of scandals, including bombshells regarding Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer.
In a letter obtained by Fox News, Comcast/NBCUniversal responded by asking the SEC to block the proposal, claiming the company has already taken steps to combat sexual harassment, which are detailed in the letter.
“We respectfully request the concurrence of the [SEC] that it will not recommend enforcement action against the Company if the Company omits the Proposal,” attorney William H. Aaronson wrote.
NBC Universal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The steps that have been taken by NBC honchos, detailed in the letter to the SEC, aren’t good enough for Arjuna Capital and UltraViolet leadership.
“On its face, the decision by Comcast/NBCUniversal to kill our sex discrimination resolution before it reaches an investor vote suggests they just don’t get it. Attempting to cover up what is potentially a company-wide pattern of abuse is not a credible corporate response,” Arjuna Capital managing partner Natasha Lamb said in a statement.
“In the case of workplace sexual harassment, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and continued attempts to sweep concerns under the rug sends absolutely the wrong signal to shareholders,” Lamb added. “Investors are legitimately concerned about their long-term wealth and the kind of regulatory fines and court-imposed judgments that could lie just ahead.”
UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said “Comcast has fostered a work environment that empowers men to abuse women” while “corporate executives look the other way, or worse, protect the abuser and silence those who speak up.”
The ongoing calls for Comcast to launch an independent investigation have been resurfacing on occasion since the beginning of the #MeToo era.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his top deputy, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim, famously told Ronan Farrow that his Weinstein reporting wasn’t fit to print, so Farrow took it to The New Yorker, where it won the Pulitzer Prize and helped launch the #MeToo movement. It also raised eyebrows as to why NBC passed on the story.
Weeks later, Lauer, who was NBC News’ biggest star at the time, was terminated for sexual misconduct himself.
After the Weinstein and Lauer bombshells were reported in 2017, NBC refused to hire an outside investigator to determine who knew about Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct and whether NBC executives looked the other way.
NBC relied on in-house general counsel Kim Harris despite widespread calls for an outside law firm to conduct the review.
NBC eventually declared that management was completely oblivious to Lauer’s behavior and Harris’ high-powered colleagues were cleared by the network.
“Comcast’s piecemeal approach to addressing a culture of abuse only when it is exposed in the media must end. Internal investigations are entirely insufficient and pose a significant risk to Comcast’s brand and shareholder value. The last time Comcast conducted an internal investigation, they exonerated their decision-makers and enablers of abuse, and failed to make systemic changes that addressed the root of the problems. It is time for real action,” Thomas said.
Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” detailed his version of why NBC refused to expose Weinstein, including allegations that the disgraced movie mogul leveraged the knowledge of Lauer’s own misconduct. The book also suggested Oppenheim wasn’t truthful regarding knowledge of Lauer’s alleged misconduct.
Oppenheim, who maintains that Farrow simply had “an axe to grind” against NBC, was mocked by his own staff last year when he attempted to field questions from concerned employees as excerpts from Farrow’s book began to surface.
NBC has denied wrongdoing at every turn.
NBC News has still not explained how the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump was leaked from within Oppenheim’s news division to The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold -- an old college buddy of Oppenheim.
Fahrenthold, like Farrow, won a Pulitzer Prize for stories that NBC News passed on under Oppenheim. Fahrenthold was later given a paid consultancy with NBC News.
Oppenheim and Fahrenthold attended Harvard University together, but NBC has long denied that Oppenheim leaked the scandalous tape to Fahrenthold.