(Reuters) – CBS Corp’s (CBS.N) board left embattled Chief Executive Leslie Moonves in his post on Monday as it discussed sexual harassment claims against him and took steps to select an outside counsel to lead an independent investigation into the matter.
It was not immediately clear if Moonves would stay on for the duration of the investigation or whether discussions were taking place for him to step aside.
Moonves, 68, is one of the global media industry’s highest-paid executives and could receive a severance package of more than $180 million based on his contract and the terms of his departure, according to CBS filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The media and TV company on Friday disclosed plans for a probe after the New Yorker magazine published an article detailing claims by six women who said Moonves sexually harassed them in incidents between 1985 and 2006.
Moonves, who joined CBS in 1995 and has been CEO since 2006, has said that he “may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances”, which he called mistakes that he regretted immensely, but that he understood “‘no’ means ‘no’” and had never used his position to harm anyone’s career.
Moonves is the latest executive to come under scrutiny by the #MeToo social movement, which has targeted male business leaders, politicians and entertainers for sexual misconduct, leading to resignations in major corporations, Hollywood and among lawmakers.
CBS’s lack of immediate action against Moonves was a “slap in the face to the brave women who came forward,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder of the blog Women and Hollywood, in a Twitter post, as social media reacted quickly to CBS’s announcement.
Meanwhile, Moonves is locked in a battle over control of CBS with the company’s largest shareholder, National Amusements Inc, which is owned by Shari Redstone and her father Sumner Redstone. Shari Redstone has proposed merging CBS with media company Viacom Inc (VIAB.O), also owned by National Amusements.
CBS said on Monday it would postpone its 2018 annual shareholder meeting that was previously scheduled for Aug. 10 to an unspecified date. National Amusements could exercise its voting power in such a meeting to oust directors it sees as loyal to Moonves.
Reporting by Carl O’Donnell and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Bill Rigby