Attorney: Wave of sexual misconduct allegations likely to change workplace culture

NBC fires Matt Lauer over 'inappropriate sexual behavior'

By Alicia Booth - Reporter/anchor, David Bauder, AP Media Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - NBC News fired "Today" show host Matt Lauer for what it said Wednesday was "inappropriate sexual behavior" with a colleague, making him perhaps the most familiar figure in America brought down so far by the misconduct accusations that have swept through Hollywood and the media over the past two months.

News4Jax spoke with a local labor attorney about what kind of changes there might be in the workplace in the wake of the allegations. 

After the initial shock of the string of firings, the high-profile cases are likely to change the way everyone's workplace operates -- starting with having to sign something like an acknowledgement of the company's sexual harassment policy.

NBC news chief Andrew Lack said in a memo to the staff that the network received a complaint about Lauer's behavior on Monday and determined it was a clear violation of company standards. NBC said the misconduct started when Lauer and a network employee were at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continued beyond that assignment.

Lack said it was the first complaint ever lodged against Lauer, but "we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident." 

Lauer, one of the most-liked and highest-paid figures in the TV news industry, becomes the second morning host in a week to lose his job over sexual misconduct allegations. CBS fired Charlie Rose after several women who worked for him complained about his behavior.

Messages to Lauer and his agent were not immediately returned, and the network would not say whether he denied or admitted to any wrongdoing. 

Stay-at-home mother Debbie Kearns told News4Jax that she finds it difficult to believe, saying she was shocked by Lauer's hiring.

"Persona is always different than the real person, but he just has the nice air about him," Kearns said. "I was very surprised."

Lauer, 59, joins a lengthening list of media figures felled by sexual misconduct accusations this year. Besides Rose, they include Lauer's NBC News colleague Mark Halperin, Fox News prime-time host Bill O'Reilly and National Public Radio newsroom chief Michael Oreskes. The New York Times suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush last week.

"Really, what we're seeing now, is just a complete zero-tolerance for activity, sexual activity, in the workplace," Jacksonville labor attorney Jack Webb said.

Webb said most people should expect a review of their company's policies in the coming months. 

He said the law that prohibits sexual harassment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, hasn't change, but the political climate has.

"The rules of the road have changed," Webb said. "They've evolved significantly since the days of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton."

Webb also said the door has been kicked open for false accusation -- something that business owner Kristopher Taylor wholeheartedly agrees with.

"At the end of the day, the person might not have even done anything," Taylor said. "You got to have facts. If it's not facts, then it isn't anything."

But Webb said there is something to learn from the tidal wave of accusations. 

"Mind your p's and q's," he said. "Behave yourself."

The labor attorney said it's more important than ever that people know their employer's policy about sexual harassment or even workplace romance. For business owners, they need to make sure their rules apply to everyone. 

Webb also explained that harassment can become criminal when there is any touching without consent.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.