“They Just Don’t Get It”: Bid to Derail Arjuna Capital/UltraViolet Shareholder Resolution Seen as Reflection of Mindset Linked to Allegations About Matt Lauer, Simon Cowell and Sexual Harassment at Comcast Call Centers.
BOSTON & PHILADELPHIA (February 12, 2020) – Comcast/NBCUniversal executives are trying to kill a shareholder resolution filed by investment management firm Arjuna Capital and supported by UltraViolet, a leading national women’s organization, that calls on the company to conduct an independent investigation into its failures to prevent workplace sexual harassment, and the resulting financial risks to shareholders. Comcast/NBCUniversal is taking the extraordinary step of petitioning the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to block the resolutionbefore it can reach a vote of the company’s shareholders.
Advocates from Arjuna Capital and UltraViolet argue that Comcast/NBCUniversal is sending “absolutely the wrong signal” by attempting to silence legitimate shareholder concerns about workplace harassment stemming from numerous allegations against NBC on-air talent like Matt Lauer and Simon Cowell, as well as managers at Comcast call centers who have been hit with harassment complaints.
The shareholder resolution cites Comcast/NBC Universal for “an alleged failure to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, failing to hold those culpable accountable, and lacking transparency.”
Natasha Lamb, managing partner, Arjuna Capital, said: “On its face, the decision by Comcast/NBCUniversal to kill our sex discrimination resolution before it reaches an investor vote suggests they just don’t get it. Attempting to cover up what is potentially a company-wide pattern of abuse is not a credible corporate response. In the case of workplace sexual harassment, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and continued attempts to sweep concerns under the rug sends absolutely the wrong signal to shareholders. Investors are legitimately concerned about their long-term wealth and the kind of regulatory fines and court-imposed judgments that could lie just ahead.”
“Whether it’s Matt Lauer, Simon Cowell, or issues at Comcast’s call-centers, Comcast has fostered a work environment that empowers men to abuse women in the workforce, all while corporate executives look the other way, or worse, protect the abuser and silence those who speak up,” explained Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet. “Comcast’s piecemeal approach to addressing a culture of abuse only when it is exposed in the media must end. Internal investigations are entirely insufficient and pose a significant risk to Comcast’s brand and shareholder value. The last time Comcast conducted an internal investigation, they exonerated their decision-makers and enablers of abuse, and failed to make systemic changes that addressed the root of the problems. It is time for real action.”
NBC News’ digital editorial staff recently voted to form a union, with the NewsGuild of New York, noting “serious questions” about how NBC News has handled sexual misconduct and its “opaque” procedures for “exposing powerful predators.” This failure to provide a safe workplace extends to Comcast call centers, where employees have described a hostile culture of sexual harassment. In July 2018, Comcast fired three call center employees who filed complaints. One has now filed a complaint at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Arjuna Capital resolution notes that the risk of inaction on workplace harassment is considerable for shareholders: “…Workplace harassment can harm shareholder value. The market capitalization of Wynn Resorts dropped by 3 billion dollars over two days following harassment allegations against CEO Steve Wynn. 21st Century Fox agreed to a $90-million settlement with shareholders who alleged that directors failed to hold accountable senior executives who perpetuated sexual harassment… To avoid legal and reputational risk, as the employer of 184,000 workers, Comcast must create a culture of accountability and transparency, and protect employees from harassment and discrimination.”
In recent months, UltraViolet has called for Comcast/NBCUniversal to address its toxic workplace culture. In November, UltraViolet organized a letter to the DNC, signed by Presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Julian Castro, and Tom Steyer, calling on the DNC to demand Comcast/NBCUniversal take action to address the toxic culture that exists across their newsrooms and boardrooms. In October, members of UltraViolet rallied outside of NBC’s headquarters in New York City to deliver more than 20,000 signatures demanding changes across Comcast.
Arjuna Capital is a champion of workplace concerns for women and minorities. In 2018, Arjuna persuaded Citibank, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, American Express, Mastercard, Reinsurance Group and Progressive to publish their gender and racial pay gaps on an equal pay for equal work basis. Since 2016, Arjuna Capital compelled similar disclosures from 22 companies, including leading U.S. tech and retail firms Apple, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, eBay, Adobe, Expedia, and Starbucks.
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Arjuna Capital is a sustainable and impact investment firm that works with high-net-worth individuals, families, and institutions to invest with a lens toward Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risk and opportunity. Lamb and Arjuna Capital have been recognized for using shareholder resolutions to promote gender and racial pay equity in the tech, banking, and retail sectors. Natasha Lamb was named to the “Bloomberg 50” list of influencers who defined global business in 2017. For more information, visit www.Arjuna-Capital.com.
UltraViolet is a community of more than one million people that drives feminist cultural and political change. Through people power and strategic advocacy, we work to improve the lives of women and girls of all identities and backgrounds, and all people impacted by sexism, by dismantling discrimination and creating a cost for sexism.