Comcast Shareholders Reject Call for Outside Sexual Harassment Investigation

Cynthia Littleton

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Comcast Corp. shareholders have rejected a proposal that called for the company to commission an outside investigation of sexual harassment issues at the media giant and NBCUniversal.

The proposal was made during the company’s annual shareholders meeting held via webcast on Wednesday morning. Another shareholder proposal to split up the job of chairman and CEO at the company, now held by Brian Roberts, was also rejected. The voting tallies were not immediately available. The Roberts family has control of Comcast through its ownership of preferred Class B shares that cover about 33% of voting rights in the company.

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Comcast has faced numerous calls for an independent sexual harassment investigation following the 2017 firing of “Today” anchor Matt Lauer and other reports of questionable behavior within NBCUniversal. The shareholder proposal was introduced by Natasha Lamb, managing director of Boston-based Arjuna Capital.

At the meeting, Lamb criticized the company’s focus on internal investigations of misconduct. She cast the need for an outside probe as a shareholder concern to weigh “the risk posed by the company’s failure to prevent workplace sexual harassment.” Lamb cited the multi-million-dollar payouts and market cap loss at companies that have been rocked by sexual harassment claims, including 21st Century Fox and Wynn Resorts.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Lamb said. Resisting an independent investigation into the company’s culture “sends the wrong signal” to shareholders and the marketplace.

During the 45-minute meeting, Roberts acknowledged the turmoil as the nation battles the coronavirus outbreak and the surge of protests for racial justice following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis.

“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19 and events associated with the senseless killing of George Floyd,” Roberts said, noting that the country has been “challenged like never before.”

The first general question that Roberts fielded came from a shareholder who said he was dismayed by MSNBC’s coverage of the nationwide protests sparked by Floyd’s killing. The questioner asserted that MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi and NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson were supportive of violence and left-wing extremists movements. Roberts said he was unfamiliar with the specific clip cited by the questioner.

But the question contained flaws. Jackson has been on maternity leave since March 6. In a recent post on Twitter, Velshi noted that footage from his coverage of while  recent events in Minneapolis contains him telling viewers that “having covered the story for hours, that, that notwithstanding the fire behind me, most protestors were not involved in looting and burning property down.”

“It’s truly heartbreaking that in 2020 we still find our society struggling with issues core to human dignity. Racial injustice and violence cannot be tolerated,” Roberts said. “By and large the coverage continues to inform and educate our society. .. We will continue to strive to inform the American public.”

Roberts also praised the work that Sky News has done in Europe, particularly in Italy where coronavirus hit hard earlier this year.

When pressed by a shareholder about how Comcast would respond to calls for systemic social change in light of the outrage spurred by Floyd’s death, which was captured on videotape as former police officer Derek Chauvin, now facing murder and manslaughter charges, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

“We’re hopeful that this dialogue at this time can lead to some real change that has been lacking over the years in this country,” Roberts said. “We strive to always be a better company and stand for the values that built this organization. There’s a lot of reflection and discussion happening and we welcome that at our company as well.”

(Pictured: Brian Roberts)

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