ViacomCBS Won't Pay $120 Million to Moonves as Part of Separation

(Image credit: CBS)

ViacomCBS said it has settled its dispute with former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves and will not have to shell out a $120 million severance package that had been placed in a trust after his termination, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday.

Moonves stepped down in 2018 after allegations that he had sexually harassed several women at the company. 

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but according to a joint statement from ViacomCBS and Moonves, the costs of the settlement will be borne by a CBS contractor and Moonves will "contribute the entire settlement amount to various charities."

Back in 2018 CBS said that Moonves had agreed to donate about $20 million of his severance to several organizations supporting the elimination of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

The allegations were first outlined in a July 2018 piece in The New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ronan Farrow, which said Moonves engaged in inappropriate behavior with several women including actress Illeana Douglas about 20 years ago. After that piece broke, several other women came forward, and in November of that year the New York Times reported that Moonves had paid a former accuser for years to keep her silence. 

CBS immediately conducted an investigation into those allegations and concluded that while harassment and retaliations weren’t “pervasive” at the broadcaster, the probe found other instances of unprofessional conduct and determined that the company’s policies did not do enough to prevent harassment and retaliation. 

Shortly after Moonves stepped down, CBS said it would not pay a $120 million severance package to the former executive because he was terminated for cause, pointing to the former executive's “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. Mr. Moonves will not receive any severance payment from the Company.”

Moonves fought that claim and filed for arbitration on Jan. 16, 2019 to get back the award.  

In the Friday SEC filing, ViacomCBS said that the disputes between the company and Moonves have been resolved and that on May 14, the parties dismissed the arbitration proceeding, adding that the assets in the trust that held the $120 million severance package, “will revert to the company in their entirety.”

Mike Farrell

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.