What is the appropriate treatment for a leader, executive or artist who has been dismissed, disgraced, and exiled because of credible or proven instances of workplace sexual misconduct?
John Lasseter, the genius Pixar co-founder who was forced to resign from the Walt Disney Company in June after complaints that he engaged in unwanted “grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes” suddenly raises the question, because he is all of these, and now is one of the first men facing ruin in the #MeToo era to find a new position as impressive and lucrative—seven figures—as his old one.
David Ellison, “Mission: Impossible” producer and founder of Skydance Media, a newish production company affiliated with Paramount Pictures, announced this week that Lasseter would become Skydance’s head of animation and will start this month. “John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement. “We look forward to John bringing all of his creative talents, his experience managing large franchises, his renewed understanding of the responsibilities of leadership and his exuberance to Skydance.”
BUT, he continued: “We did not enter into this decision lightly. John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”
On his own behalf, Lasseter, who was the moving creative force behind multiple Pixar classics like “Toy Story” as well as Disney’s “Frozen,” said that he that he had engaged in “deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made many colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for.” He added that he planned to build Skydance Animation in the same way he built Pixar, but with renewed dedication to the need for “safety, trust and mutual respect.”
Good enough? No, #MeToo is not pleased. Time’s Up, the #MeToo-spawned political group founded by Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes among others, protested in response to the announcement that offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to show true remorse, work to reform their behavior and provide restitution to those harmed is condoning abuse.” The hire, Time’s Up added in a statement, “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”
Got it. Women, at least these women, want to see men ruined, shunned and reduced to living by crowdfunding and begging on the street if possible, without the certainly of due process and regardless of circumstances. How does someone like Lasseter show “true remorse”? They get to decide. What work do they have to do to reform their behavior? That’s the activists’ call too, I suppose. Meanwhile, absent a trial, what is restitution? If the women involved have a lawsuit, let them bring it. What is the cost of an unwanted workplace hug?
The Times story adds that multiple staff members, all anonymously, told managers at Disney that Lasseter had become increasingly domineering over the years. What does that have to do with anything? A company founder and executive who is domineering! What’s the sentence for that these days?
The Times also provides insight into the Times Up/#MeToo trick of ensuring maximum ruination for men accused of sexual harassment by employing the idea that all offenders are the same. “The comedian Louis C.K. has pushed to revive his comedy career — to vigorous opposition — after admitting to sexual misconduct,” the story tells us, apparently to demonstrate a contrast. There is no comparison. C.K. was in the habit of masturbating in front of female colleagues, none of them his subordinates, and not in the workplace. He never denied the offense. Reviving his career means being funny enough that an audience wants to hear him and will pay for the privilege. His fate has no relevance to Lasseter’s situation at all.
Neither does Harvey Weinstein, though both were successful creative forces in Hollywood. Weinstein hasn’t been convicted (yet) of any crime, but what he has admitted to is repeated quid prp quo sexual harassment in the workplace, offering and exchanging work favors for sex. This is to unwanted hugs and spontaneous kisses as rape is pulling a woman under the mistletoe. These distinctions matter. Nothing Lasseter was accused of rises to the level of actionable sexual assault, putting him is a different, less dangerous, more forgivable class than Bill Cosby, Weinstein, Les Moonves, Kevin Spacey, and Matt Lauer, to name four. His “hostile work environment” creating habits also are not the equal of the most blatant sexual harassers on the long Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck passenger list, like the late Roger Ailes, many of whom engaged in cover-ups and threats.
John Lasseter is, in contrast, the more common sort of workplace harasser, a middle-aged to older man who learned bad habits when his conduct was common among his superiors and peers, and who genuinely doesn’t thin k he was doing anything wrong, or that every other man in a similar position did. I have been in many workplace cultures where uninvited hugging, kissing and tasteless comments on a woman’s appearance were tolerated (by both men and women, managers and subordinates). I have know many of the men who behaved like this well, and some who ultimately were dismissed for it. All of them felt that the rules had been changed on them, and that their punishment was unfair.
In truth, the rules had changed, but the ethics had not. Such disrespectful, degrading and subordinating treatment of women in the workplace was always wrong. For many men, however, the ethics alarms relating to such conduct had, and have, rusted solid. You know who John Lasseter is? This guy…
Do you think Uncle Joe really understands that he’s doing something wrong? I don’t. He’s even made statements about sexual harassment last year in an address to students at Rutgers, telling them, “Sexual assault is not about sex. It’s about power. It’s about the abuse of power.” Joe would be horrified is someone said he was a serial harasser. He’s just being nice!
The Time’s Up!/#MeToo warriors want proof that men like Lasseter and Biden have changed their values and beliefs, but that’s not going to happen, because they think they are good people who were themselves mistreated. They can’t change their attitudes, but they can absolutely change their conduct, because they have to.
Lasseter was properly punished at Disney. He lost his job and his connection to his own creation. He was humiliated, and was without work for many months. That’s hardly getting off scot free, and each new workplace is not obligated to punish an employee for misconduct at the previous workplace. Hiring John Lasseter to do a job he has a track record of doing uniquely well is not “The King’s Pass,” it’s good business. Apparently his contract with Skydance includes provisions that make Lasseter responsible for paying for “legal issues arising from future misbehavior.” The provisions also “indemnify Skydance from any past misdeeds that had not come to light in the due diligence process conducted by an outside law firm.”
Perfect. Lasseter has a second chance, and knows the consequences if he harasses again. If he does harass again, I would make the argument that he is a serial, compulsive harasser, and not fit for the workplace. I would bet that he has enough self-control to restrain himself. It doesn’t matter if he wishes he could exploit his power for cheap titillation and thrills: wishes aren’t unethical. I wish him good luck.
And Skydance too.