Our employment attorneys in Orange County have learned that The New Yorker has terminated Jeffrey Toobin’s employment after an investigation concerning a Zoom call incident that took place last month. During the call, Toobin inadvertently exposed himself to colleagues during a break in the show. He announced his own termination on Wednesday on Twitter, and wrote that he was fired as a staff writer after having spent 27 years at The New Yorker. A spokesperson for the magazine confirmed Toobin’s statement to Variety, simply stating that Toobin was no longer affiliated with the company as a result of their investigation.
Initial Suspension After Zoom Incident
The New Yorker revealed that on October 19th, Toobin was suspended after exposing himself on a Zoom call with WNYC and some of his New Yorker colleagues. Vice’s tech news website, Motherboard, alleged that during the call Toobin was seen masturbating. Toobin made a statement to Motherboard in which he referred to the incident as “an embarrassingly stupid mistake.” He went on to apologize to his coworkers, friends, family and wife, stating that he thought he was off-camera, and therefore not visible or audible to anyone.
Statements Made to VICE
Two individuals on the call made separate statements to VICE, stating that the call was a simulation of the election, and featured some of The New Yorker’s biggest stars: establishment Republicans were played by Jane Mayer, Joe Biden was played by Evan Osnos, Masha Gessen played Donald Trump, Jelani Cobb played establishment Democrats, Sue Halpern was left wing democrats and Andrew Marantz played the far right. The military was played by Dexter Filkins and Jeffrey Toobin played the courts. Also on the call were several other producers from WNYC and The New Yorker.
Both individuals who spoke to VICE did so under the condition of anonymity, and it was unclear how much was visible to each person, but both said that it was obvious to them that Toobin was masturbating. It occurred at a juncture in the election simulation during which a strategy session was underway. The “Republicans and the Democrats” dispersed to their respective rooms for approximately ten minutes. They said at this point it appeared as if Toobin was on another video call and that when the groups returned from their break out rooms, he could be seen touching himself.
Following this incident Toobin left the call, then a few minutes later called back in, but seemed entirely unaware of what had been visible to his co-workers in the meantime. The group then continued with the simulation. On the 19th of October, Natalie Raabe–a spokesperson for The New Yorker–said that Jeffrey Toobin was suspended, and that the matter was being investigated. It is not clear whether or not the incident was directly referred to as sexual misconduct by anyone at The New Yorker, but not all comments were made public.
Toobin wrote “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” in 1996, which was eventually adapted by FX to become part of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a true-crime series. Toobin is also a chief legal analyst for the cable news channel, CNN. Following the incident, he was granted time off and took a leave of absence. His status at CNN is not yet clear. CNN simply stated that they had approved his request for time off “to deal with a personal issue.”
A source told Motherboard that WNYC instructed staffers to refrain from booking Toobin on its shows or allowing him to work in any other professional capacity with the network. However, WNYC declined to comment, as did Kritsitne Dahl, the latter of whom is Tobin’s literary agent. No sexual harassment charges have been filed and it is not yet clear if Toobin will seek the advice of employment attorneys.
For several months, the Ellen DeGeneres Show–named after its host–has been steeped in controversy. Our employment attorneys in Orange County can confirm that troubling reports have emerged concerning sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as claims of racial insensitivity and intimidation involving some of the show’s staffers. DeGeneres, who is 62, apologized twice to employees for the toxic work environment and said that some employees had been let go. However, an investigation is ongoing, as she was accused of fostering that very environment. Seeking the advice of an employment attorney is typically recommended if one plans to bring such allegations. With regard to the Ellen DeGeneres Show, however, three senior staffers are no longer with the show. Recently, in front of a virtual audience, the talk show host addressed the situation.
DeGeneres Expresses Regret and Speaks of Necessary Changes
In a candid monologue, DeGeneres acknowledged that things took place that never should have occurred, and she expressed her remorse to those who were affected. She made reference to her position of power and privilege, stating that such a position also comes with responsibility, which she indicated she was willing to bear. DeGeneres went on to say that numerous conversations took place in the recent past between herself and staff members, and that necessary changes were made.
The talk show host spoke of emerging as the “Be Kind Lady,” calling it a “tricky position to be in.” She received this nickname following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, who took his life in 2010 after being bullied in college for being gay. DeGeneres responded to the suicide with a strong message about the need to stop bullying of all kinds. The talk show host confirmed that although she is the kind person seen on television by her fans, she is also like everyone else in the sense that she gets impatient, anxious, frustrated, angry or sad from time to time. She referred to herself as “a work in progress,” during the virtual speech.
An Opportunity to Learn
DeGeneres spoke about how she initially got into show business to make people feel good and laugh. She said she wants her 270 employees to be proud and happy to work with her for this reason. DeGeneres also indicated that she was very sorry if she ever hurt someone’s feelings, and that if she did, she let herself down as well as that person. Later, she referred to such incidents as opportunities to learn.
DeGeneres said that despite the Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic, she still wants her show to be a daily hour of joy and was committed to making it the best season yet, despite the new controversy surrounding it. People Magazine reported that Portia de Rossi, DeGeneres’s wife, was backstage to show her support during the premiere and that DeGeneres received applause from her crew as she walked off the set following the taping of the announcement.
It is unclear whether or not those who are no longer with the show are pursuing legal actions. They may choose to seek legal advice from an employment attorney if this is the case.
May families are struggling financially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With California’s jobless claims reaching historic levels and many employees finding it difficult to submit unemployment claims with the state’s Employment Development Department, many are California’s are wondering how to pay their bills or buy groceries. Employees who have been furloughed or laid off with no definitive date of return in the foreseeable future should be aware of their rights with respect to their accrued and unused vacation or Paid Time Off (PTO) time.
Under California law, accrued vacation and PTO, is considered a vested wage that belongs to the employee and should be paid out at the time of termination, be it voluntary or involuntary, such as in connection with a furlough or layoff. An employee’s right to vacation and PTO is a long established California principle under Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up, where the California Supreme Court held vacation (PTO) accrues as it is earned and cannot be forfeited upon termination, regardless if the termination is voluntary or involuntary. Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up (1982) 31 Cal. 3d 774.
Similarly, California Labor Code Section 227.3 states that, unless otherwise provided for by a collective bargaining agreement, if an employer has a vacation or PTO policy that provides for paid vacation, all earned and unused vacation/PTO must be paid to the employee upon termination at his or her final rate of pay.
Many employees then ask themselves, is my furlough or layoff a termination? Many may view their employment as continuing and they hope their employer will recall them, but they have been given no definitive date of return. California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, commonly referred to as the Labor Commissioner’s Office, has long taken the position that “if an employee is laid off without a specific return date within the normal pay period, the wages earned to and including the lay off date are due and payable in accordance with Section 201.” DLSE Opinion Letter, May 30, 1996.
Accordingly, employees who have been furloughed or laid off and do not have a definitive date of return within the normal pay period should be paid their accrued and unused vacation or PTO at the time of furlough or layoff. Employees who have not received their unused vacation or PTO in these instances should consider consulting with an employment attorney about their rights. In addition to payment of their vacation and PTO, employees may also be entitled to certain penalties for the delay in receiving their final wages.
The attorneys at Ares Law Group, P.C. have extensive experiencing representing employees with wage and hour claims. What sets Ares Law Group, P.C. apart from other firms is its experience. The partners at Ares Law Group, P.C. Matt D’Abusco and Cynthia Sandoval, have been practicing employment law and litigation a collective 30 years. Prior to founding Ares Law Group, Mr. D’Abusco and Ms. Sandoval worked at a renowned and prestigious nationwide labor and employment firms representing a variety of employers, from small family owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies. As a result of this experience, Ares Law Group attorneys bring a unique perspective to each case as they understand opposing counsels’ perspective and approach defending cases, which is invaluable to Ares Law Group’s clients.