NBC investigation of Matt Lauer finds 'no evidence' that senior executives received complaints before November
NBC released its investigation into "Today" show host Matt Lauer's history of workplace harassment on Wednesday, concluding that there was "no evidence" that any senior executives at the network were aware of complaints about Lauer until November.
The findings were based on interviews with 70 current and former employees, the company said.
Lauer was fired by NBC News in November after an employee filed a formal complaint about "inappropriate sexual behavior." Three other women also made allegations against Lauer, the star of NBC News's most lucrative program. Some of the women told Variety that they had complained about him to senior managers, but their complaints were ignored. The Washington Post also reported that Lauer's former "Today" co-host Ann Curry approached two members of NBC's management team after an NBC female staffer told her she was "sexually harassed physically" by Lauer.
NBC confirmed in its investigation that four women complained about Lauer but said those concerns were not brought to the attention of managers until November.
In a memo to employees on Wednesday, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack wrote, "We cannot change the past. What we can do is learn from it, and try to make it right." He offered a seven-point plan for "a safer and more respectful environment," including more training for managers, mandatory workplace training, and "constant vigilance, monitoring and measuring progress."
The report said the first formal complaint about Lauer was made by an unidentified employee on Nov. 22. She alleged in an internal interview a week later that Lauer had "engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace."
Lauer admitted to the allegation in an interview with NBC's legal and human-resources staff on Nov. 28, the report said. He was fired that day.
The report said three more employees subsequently came forward with similar complaints about Lauer. Their allegations dated to 2000, 2001 and 2007, the report said.
In addition to interviews, the investigative team conducted a search of emails by Lauer, NBC News executives and Lauer's "Today" show supervisors, according to the seven-page report. The team also went through text messages on Lauer's company-issued phone, complaints to company helplines, legal and HR records and other documents.
"We found no evidence indicating that any NBC News or Today Show leadership, HR or others in positions of authority in the News Division received any complaints about Lauer's workplace behavior prior to Nov. 27, 2017," the report concluded. "All four women who came forward confirmed that they did not tell their direct manager or anyone else in a position of authority about their sexual encounters with Lauer. Current and former members of NBC News and Today Show leadership, as well as News HR, stated that they had never received a complaint about inappropriate workplace behavior by Lauer, and we did not find any contrary evidence."
Lauer's workplace misconduct apparently began more than 20 years ago; in 1996, according to the report, one of the women who eventually complained about him said he placed his hand on her thigh and made "a sexually suggestive" comment to her. She reported this interaction to her manager, who decided that the woman would no longer be assigned to projects that required her to travel with Lauer. The manager didn't report this interaction to any senior executives, the report said.
NBC's investigation includes a curious passage contradicting the statements by Curry about alerting management to complaints about Lauer's behavior back in 2012. The report said Curry, in an interview with investigators, "confirmed that she did not disclose to anyone in management that she had received a specific complaint."
It added, "Curry declined to share with the investigation team the identity of anyone in management with whom she spoke at the time or the identity of the woman who came to her with a complaint about Lauer."
The report suggests that employees were aware of Lauer's marital problems and that he had had extramarital affairs, though they believed, "with limited exceptions," that the affairs were with women outside NBC, according to the report.
It said, "a number of individuals interviewed said that Lauer could be flirtatious, would frequently make jokes, some with sexual overtones, and would openly engage in sexually-oriented banter in the workplace."
Several women described to the investigators what they believed was a sexual overture from Lauer when he complimented them on their appearance in "sexually suggestive ways." But the women said they deflected Lauer's comments, and he did not pursue them.
The report also addressed a notorious element of the Lauer-harassment scandal: the existence of a button in his office that allegedly locked the door remotely. It said the button was "a commonly available feature" in NBC's Rockefeller Center offices in New York and that, contrary to some news reports, it doesn't lock the door from the inside.
The report concluded by generally absolving NBC regarding its larger workplace "culture": "The investigation team does not believe that there is a current widespread or systemic pattern of behavior that violates company policy or a current culture of harassment in the news division, based on our interviews ... and our review of the nature and number of workplace complaints in the news division."
But it added, "More work needs to be done to ensure that all employees ... feel comfortable reporting concerns and do not fear retaliation if they do." It recommended improved training, more communication from management, and improvements to employee complaint-reporting channels.
Author information: Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.