Former CBS executive Whitney Davis accuses network of ‘systemic’ racial and sexual discrimination

Whitney Davis, a longtime CBS executive who left the company in February, has criticized CBS over its lack of diversity, detailing several specific examples of racial discrimination and workplace misconduct.

She also criticized the independent investigation into the workplace culture following the accusations of sexual misconduct against former CEO Leslie Moonves for overlooking systemic racism and discrimination, which she says she expected to change after the investigation.

“The company has a white problem across the board,” Davis, who joined CBS News in 2006 and whose title was Director, CBS Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion before her departure, said in an op-ed for Variety published Tuesday. “Did you know that there’s not one black creative executive working at CBS Television Network or CBS Television Studios?”

Davis, went on to give examples of workplace misconduct during her time at CBS, including one incident while she was at “CBS Evening News,” where a co-worker said “My dad has f–ed black women, and he loved it.” She said she didn’t take action for fear of losing her job. She also said a senior producer for the broadcast “always wanted to touch my hair while sharing an inappropriate sexual joke.”

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NEW YORK - APRIL 11: CBS president and Viacom CEO Leslie Moonves and his wife TV personality Julie Chen arrive to the American Theater Wing Annual Dinner. This year's Spring benefit honors CBS Television and it's chairman Leslie Moonves held at Cipriani's 42nd St. April 11, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)
Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves during 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Arrivals at Mortons in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen during CBS at 75 at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 7: (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves attend the New York premiere of Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill Vol. 1' at the Ziegfeld Theater October 7, 2003 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves;Julie Chen attends the 59th Annual Tony Awards held at Radio City Music Hall, New York BRIAN ZAK. (Photo by Brian ZAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen during The Museum of Television & Radio Honors Leslie Moonves and Jerry Bruckheimer - Arrivals at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves during Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios' World Premiere of 'Freedomland' at Loews Lincoln Square Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Sony Pictures-Los Angeles)
HOLLYWOOD - NOVEMBER 30: CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves (R) and TV personality Julie Chen arrive at the first annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 30, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 06: President and CEO of the CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves and his wife Julie Chen attend the grand opening of the CBS Scene Restaurant & Bar on September 6, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mary Schwalm/Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend the '63rd Annual Tony Awards' at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images)
CBS News anchor Julie Chen and husband, CBS Corporation President and CEO Leslie Moonves attend the 2011 CBS Upfront at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 18, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: TV personality Julie Chen and President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS CorporationLeslie Moonves arrive at The Weinstein Company And Relativity Media's 2011 Golden Globe Awards Party held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 29: Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves arrives at the 2012 TCA Summer Tour - CBS, Showtime And The CW Party at 9900 Wilshire Blvd on July 29, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: TV personality Julie Chen AND President & CEO of the CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves attend the Vanity Fair Party during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend The Weinstein Company's 2013 Golden Globes After Party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: TV personality Julie Chen and CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves attend AFI's 41st Life Achievement Award Tribute to Mel Brooks at Dolby Theatre on June 6, 2013 in Hollywood, California. 23647_003_SK_1164.JPG (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: President and chief executive officer of CBS Corp. Leslie Moonves and television personality Julie Chen attend the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Producer Julie Chen and President and CEO of CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves attend the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Vanity Fair Party at State Supreme Courthouse on April 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Producer Julie Chen (L) and President of CBS Leslie Moonves attend Universal Music Group's 2016 GRAMMY after party at The Theatre At The Ace Hotel on February 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend the 2015 CBS Upfront at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Julie Chen (L) and CBS' Leslie Moonves arrive at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Julie Chen (L) and CBS' Leslie Moonves arrive at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Television personality Julie Chen (L) and CEO of CBS Leslie Moonves attend the premiere of CBS's 'Star Trek: Discovery' at The Cinerama Dome on September 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
THE OSCARS(r) - The 89th Oscars(r) broadcasts live on Oscar(r) SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2017, on the ABC Television Network. (Tyler Golden/ABC via Getty Images) JULIE CHEN, LESLIE MOONVES
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Whitney also detailed an incident in 2009 where she, after two white male colleagues told then-national editor Bill Felling they couldn’t travel to cover a story, she offered to, but was rebuffed. She said Felling told her “I’m not going to waste the company’s money for you to go there and fail.” She added that a year later, when she met Felling again, he complimented her on her work and then “placed his hands on my shoulders, turned me around and asked what I had done differently to my hair.”

Whitney said that many times she was passed over for promotions in favor of white colleagues. “Although I couldn’t confirm that my career had been sabotaged, I felt as though I had hit a glass ceiling working in news,” she said.

In response to the op-ed, a CBS spokesperson said: “During her time at CBS, Whitney was a valued team member of the News and Entertainment divisions. She was selected for a management-training program, promoted several times, and was given high-profile assignments. While we disagree with some statements in Whitney’s story, we take all employee concerns seriously and remain committed to improving the workplace experience for everyone.

“CBS leadership has made strengthening our culture a top priority. Over the past several months, we have announced plans to devote considerable resources to critical areas such as ethics, compliance, diversity and inclusion, and human resources, including creating a centralized employee relations function to respond to workplace issues,” the statement continued. “Employees are CBS’ most important resource, and providing them with a safe, fair, inclusive and positive work environment is paramount to our continued success.”

When she worked at the company’s Emerging Creative Leadership Experience division, Davis said she was often the only person of color in meetings. “In fact, there was not one black creative executive at the network. Today, the only black female executive at CBS Entertainment oversees diversity and inclusion.”

She said that Peter Golden, the head of network casting and talent, often discarded minority actors in favor of white ones. “It is my opinion that Peter Golden doesn’t find minority performers to be as talented as white actors,” she said.

Golden denied that comment in a statement to Variety, saying: “The claims and innuendos made about me by Ms. Davis are categorically untrue. Approximately eight years ago, Ms. Davis was a trainee in my department for the customary three- to -four-month period provided under CBS’ management training program. While it is certainly possible that I may have reviewed headshots in front of Ms. Davis, her claim that I systematically dismissed diverse actors is patently false. In addition, and contrary to her assertions, the Comedy Diversity Showcase has resulted in numerous guest and series regular roles on CBS shows for the participants. Throughout my career in casting, I have always been a vigorous advocate for all actors. Ms. Davis’ implications are completely contrary to who I am personally and professionally.”

In the last year, CBS has fired multiple executives — including former CEO Moovnes and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager — for sexual and workplace misconduct. Last year, CBS hired two law firms — Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton — to investigate the workplace culture at the company, but Davis said that the investigators never followed up when she told them about the discrimination within the company. The investigators’ report, which was never released publicly, was leaked to The New York Times.

“The leaked report emphasized sexual misconduct while failing to address the totality of problems at the corporation,” Davis said. “We should all be outraged that CBS has opted to ignore its rampant discrimination issues and lack of inclusion.”

Former CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller, who was also mentioned in the piece, added in a statement of his own:

“I have personally been a champion of diversity at CBS, both in front of and behind the camera. For well over a decade, I worked closely with both the writers program and the Directing Initiative. But I am most proud of my involvement with the Drama Diversity Casting Initiative. I conceived, spearheaded and shepherded the program, and was intimately involved every step of the way — from helping choose audition sides to set visits during the actors’ screen tests. For the record, I wanted to make deals with several actors. Ultimately, everyone has a boss who has the final word, and I was no exception.”

Neither Geller nor Golden immediately responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Read the full story in Variety here.

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