New York Times - Business

At Vice, Cutting-Edge Media and Allegations of Old-School Sexual Harassment

“People marveled at their ability to make their own rules and blindly disregard everyone else’s,” Ms. Hopper said in an interview. She declined to comment on the existence of a settlement.

“The editor of the piece at that time has not been with the company in a decade,” Vice said in a statement. “Ms. Hopper was right to call us on our conduct at the time, and we are still ashamed of it.’’

Mr. Smith, who had long celebrated a life of hard-partying excess, married a woman in 2009 who had worked at Vice and started wearing suits to the office, current and former employees said. But they also suggested that he oversaw a company where issues of sexual misconduct and harassment festered.

In their statement, Mr. Smith and Mr. Alvi admitted that dysfunction and mismanagement from the company’s early days “were allowed to flourish unchecked.”

Women said that they felt that rejecting sexual advances from bosses could result in reassignment or lost work, and that when they reported problems, executives downplayed the allegations. Some said that while they considered taking legal action, they thought they lacked the financial resources to sue and feared that Vice would retaliate.

“There is a toxic environment where men can say the most disgusting things, joke about sex openly, and overall a toxic environment where women are treated far inferior than men,” said Sandra Miller, who worked as head of branded production at Vice from 2014 to 2016.

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Sandra Miller, who led Vice’s branded production efforts from 2014 to 2016, said she never experienced harassment there, but said it was “overall a toxic environment where women are treated far inferior than men.” Credit Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times

She said that as a 50-year-old woman she did not face harassment but witnessed “the complicity of accepting that behavior, covering up for it, and having even the most progressive people look the other way.”

The workplace problems were particularly disappointing, many women said, because they had viewed Vice as their dream opportunity. The company didn’t pay well, some said, but it was the definition of cool for those who wanted to create entertainment and journalism on the cutting edge. The company bestowed select staff members rings that spell V-I-C-E — considered the ultimate prize.

People worked long hours and partied together afterward. And that’s where the lines often blurred. Multiple women said that after a night of drinking, they wound up fending off touching, kissing and other advances from their superiors.

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An issue of Vice magazine.

Two women told The Times about episodes involving Mike Germano, Vice’s chief digital officer who founded Carrot Creative, the digital ad agency that Vice acquired in 2013. Amanda Rue, a former strategist, said that at Carrot’s holiday party in 2012 Mr. Germano told her that he hadn’t wanted to hire her because he wanted to have sex with her.

Gabrielle Schaefer, who worked closely with Mr. Germano as director of communications at Carrot, said he made her feel uncomfortable during a work event at a bar one night in 2014 when he pulled her onto his lap. After Ms. Schaefer reported the incident to human resources, she said, she felt that she fell out of favor at the company and eventually left.

“Carrot has been repeatedly recognized as one of the industry’s best places to work, and I do not believe that these allegations reflect the company’s culture — or the way we treat each other,” Mr. Germano said in a statement. “With regards to the incident with Ms. Schaefer, I agreed at that time it was inappropriate, I apologized, and it was resolved with the help of HR.” He said that days later Ms. Schaefer joined his family for dinner and that they “continued to work together amicably.”

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Andrew Creighton, left, president of Vice Media, with Mr. Smith at a company party in 2011. Credit Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

In the settlement involving Mr. Creighton, the woman claimed she felt pressured to submit to advances he made during a series of work meetings from 2013 to 2015, according to people familiar with the matter and letters sent between lawyers for the woman and Vice.

In a letter to the woman’s lawyer, Vice denied the allegations and said the woman had initiated and pursued a sexual relationship with Mr. Creighton. The company said in the letter that her termination was based on poor performance.

The dispute was settled in December 2016 after the woman filed a complaint with the United States Equal Opportunity Commission. (She withdrew her complaint as a condition of the agreement.)

In a statement, Mr. Creighton said that he and the woman were “close friends for several years before she joined Vice,” and that they were “occasionally intimate” once she began working there. He said he was not involved in the decision to let her go.

“I apologize for the situation, and it has caused much thought in my responsibilities of care for my colleagues, and I will hold myself and others accountable in constructing a respectful workplace environment.”

Agreements Encourage Silence

Executives erected a wall of silence around the company. Employees were required to sign a confidentiality agreement when they joined Vice, stating that during and after their employment they would not publicly disparage the company, according to a copy viewed by The Times.

Until recently, Vice also required employees to sign a nontraditional workplace agreement acknowledging that they would be exposed to explicit, potentially disturbing material but that they did not find such content or “the workplace environment” to be offensive or disturbing.

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