Today show host Matt Lauer was fired by NBC on November 29 after a detailed complaint alleged he engaged in "inappropriate sexual behavior" while covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (A potential pattern has since emerged: Varietypublished a story with allegations of Lauer's sexual harassment from multiple women on Wednesday afternoon.)
Named co-anchor of Today in 1997, Lauer has commanded a salary that's been estimated at $28 million, making him one of the highest-paid figures in the entertainment industry, and certainly in the news business. His contract was reported to end in 2018. And two prominent employment lawyers say they expect that for a period of time the network will continue to pay some, if not all, of that salary.
"My instinct, and based on my experience as an employment lawyer for over 35 years, is that there will be a payout," says Samuel Estreicher, an NYU law professor and director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at the university. "I would be surprised that a guy who’s created this much value for NBC has not worked out or negotiated an arrangement with NBC."
Brian Heller, a partner at Schwartz, Perry, & Heller, says that while there is "no general right for anybody to receive a severance package in New York," it's likely that Lauer and fellow news anchor Charlie Rose, who was fired last week by CBS News and PBS following sexual harassment allegations, will receive a payment.
"I would imagine that if the companies want these two individuals to remain quiet, they’ll probably purchase their silence just like so many other women’s silence has been purchased," Heller says.
He said that in this type of "negotiated departure," "both sides get what they want."
For NBC, that might mean Lauer's silence and putting this scandal to rest as quickly as possible. For Lauer, it could mean a sum that will keep him comfortable for some time.
"This is what you know: he left early without complaining," Estreicher says of Lauer. "He’s going to be badly hurt for a couple of years. Maybe he can rebuild his reputation, but for a couple of years he’s going to expect to be compensated."
That compensation, Estreicher says, could be "about one year's salary—a pretty good deal for him."
The case of Harvey Weinstein, however, is not the same. Last month the Hollywood producer was fired by the Weinstein Company, the film production company he co-founded, following multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
"It’s going to be a little different with Harvey Weinstein because he was the company, and that company’s in a lot of trouble; a payout would worsen their situation," Estreicher says. "To the extent that the company has any assets separate from Harvey Weinstein, if they give him a payout it’ll look bad for them as a company."
The Weinstein Company, he says, "can say, You totally destroyed our value by your behavior—we’re giving you nothing.' I don’t think they can say that about Lauer ... or Charlie Rose."
Charlie Rose was fired by CBS News and PBS following sexual harrassmnet allegations.
"I don’t usually make predictions like this but I’m pretty confident on this one," Estreicher says. "I’m certain they’re giving [Lauer] a payout, whether it’s now or down the road a bit."