Powerful Hollywood Executive Provides a Cautionary Tale
Yet another powerful Hollywood executive has fallen from grace due to allegations of sexual impropriety and abuses of power.
Kevin Tsujihara, most recently the Chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers, recently resigned after allegations that he had repeatedly pushed for movie roles for Charlotte Kirk, an aspiring actress whom he was having a romantic relationship with. Mr. Tsujihara’s reckoning was especially swift, with the Hollywood Reporter having published a 4,200 word article on March 6, 2019 breaking the news of the relationship between Mr. Tsujihara and Ms. Kirk. On March 18, 2019—less than two weeks after the story became public—Mr. Tsujihara resigned. The Hollywood Reporter article detailed, with physical documentation in the form of text messages between Mr. Tsujihara and Ms. Kirk, the affair between Mr. Tsujihara (who is married) and Ms. Kirk. Specifically, the article referenced numerous conversations between Ms. Kirk and Mr. Tsujihara in which Mr. Tsujihara spoke about contacting various Warner Brothers executives who worked for him in order to get Ms. Kirk movie auditions and roles.
It is of interest that neither Mr. Tsujihara or Ms. Kirk admits to any wrongdoing regarding their relationship—Ms. Kirk does not and has never alleged that she was forced or pressured by Mr. Tsujihara to do anything. To quote Variety Magazine, “(Ms.) Kirk is on record as saying she was not a victim and that the relationship was consensual. She has been accused of trying to leverage her sexual relationship with Tsujihara as pressure to help find her acting roles. Ms. Kirk stated, ‘I might have felt used at the time but I don’t now. Not at all. I was sad it ended badly.’” The Tsujihara-Kirk fact pattern truly speaks to the greater national conversation around sex and power dynamics within romantic relationships, even when that relationship is consensual. Variety Magazine described Mr. Tsujihara’s actions as “using his power as studio chief to help get her (Ms. Kirk) get hired by producers on Warner Bros.-affiliated projects.” If one assumes that this is what Mr. Tsujihara did, then the question is—what was the offense committed by Mr. Tsujihara that was wrong?
The behavior that Mr. Tsuijhara engaged in is a textbook example of what is known as “quid pro quo” sexual harassment—that is, when opportunities for advancement or training are conditioned on engaging in a sexual relationship with a person in a position of power. What is also striking about this particular fact pattern is that Mr. Tsujihara and Ms . Kirk technically did no exist as employees within the same company. But despite these nuances, it is clear that the court of public opinion—as well as top executives at Warner Brothers—clearly felt that Mr. Tsujihara’s actions crossed a line. This is thought-provoking, and should serve as a warning to other organizations. As sentiments continue to shift and solidify in the world of executive misconduct, organizations must be highly vigilant and keep their finger on the pulse of the behavior of both executives, general staff, and contractors. It is clear that the relationship between Mr. Tsujihara and Ms. Kirk, although mutually consensual, was considered to be a bridge too far for Warner Brothers, as within a mere twelve days of news of the relationship breaking in the press, Mr. Tsujihara, along with his multi-million dollar salary, was shown the door.
Back in 2013, former Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said the following when announcing Mr. Tsujihara’s promotion to the position of Warner Brothers CEO: “Kevin is one of the most effective and respected executives within Time Warner and the right leader to ensure Warner Brothers’ pre-eminence into the future. He brings the perfect combination of strategic thinking, financial discipline, digital vision and management style to build on Warner Brothers’ track record of success.” What a difference several years makes.
The Triangle Takeaway
In order to maintain the integrity of misconduct investigations, best practices require that the investigation be handled by an independent and expert-level group of investigators. These 3rd-party investigations help to ensure fairness for the person making the allegations, and decrease the possibility of the alleged victim claiming office politics or a cover-up.
The team at Triangle Investigations is an independent group of expert investigators, committed to conducting thorough and thoughtful investigations that inure to the benefit of a whole organization, including management and general staff.