Les Moonves is officially out at CBS: The network head has stepped down after 15 years as chairman and CEO at the Eye network, following serious sexual assault allegations leveled against him, CBS announced on Sunday evening.
Moonves’ departure as CEO and chairman of CBS is effective immediately. Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello will serve as President and Acting CEO while the CBS Board searches for a permanent successor.
In addition, CBS will donate $20 million of Moonves’ potential severance to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and gender equality in the workplace. (Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time, other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation/benefits. Any payments to be made in the future will depend upon the results of an independent investigation into the allegations made against Moonves.)
The allegations against Moonves first came to light in a New Yorker story by Ronan Farrow, in which six women — including actress Ileana Douglas — accused Moonves of touching and kissing them without their consent. Several of the women said they believe that refusing Moonves’ advances hurt their careers in Hollywood. Moonves responded with a statement admitting that he “may have made some women uncomfortable” throughout his career, but insisting that he “never misused [his] position” at CBS.
A second wave of allegations were reported by Farrow in a follow-up story first published on Sunday. That piece included six additional incidents that allegedly took place between the 1980s and 2000s. Among them were accusations made by veteran television executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb — who accused Moonves of physically restraining her, forcing her to perform oral sex on him, exposing himself to her and throwing her up against a wall — and Moonves’ former assistant Jessica Pallingston, who alleged that she, too, was coerced into performing oral sex, and became verbally abusive when she denied subsequent advances.
Moonves worked as an executive for CBS for more than two decades, joining the network in 1995 as president of CBS Entertainment. He was promoted to chairman and CEO of CBS in 2003, overseeing an era where the Eye network was TV’s most-watched network for an incredible 15 years. (NBC finally edged out CBS in total viewers last year.) He’s married to Julie Chen, who hosts Big Brother and The Talk for CBS; Chen issued a statement of support for her husband shortly after the allegations began to make headlines.