Comcast Fights Shareholder Proposal On New Probe Of Sexual Harassment Policies

Matt Lauer
A Comcast shareholder asks for more accountability. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Fired Today host Matt Lauer continues to haunt NBC’s parent.

A shareholder resolution is asking Comcast to conduct an independent investigation of sexual harassment complaints and policies. The media giant has asked the SEC to block the proposal.

The resolution was submitted by Arjuna Capital on Jan.31. In the regular course of business, it would appear in what’s called a proxy statement, a meaty document public companies publish each year before the annual meeting that lists proposals generated by individual shareholders to be put to vote by all the other shareholders.

But Comcast has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to block this proposal at the gate. It argues in a letter to the SEC that the proposal relates to “ordinary business operations,” which is grounds for exclusion from the proxy. It says Comcast has already taken numerous steps, which it lists, to combat harassment and discrimination. It also indicates that it believes the resolution, which covers Comcast’s general legal compliance program and policies, is overly broad.

“We respectfully request the concurrence of the [SEC] staff that it will not recommend enforcement action against the Company if the Company omits the proposal,” Comcast wrote.

A Comcast representative declined to comment beyond the letter.

Arjuna Capital has successfully pushed through proposals at major companies relating to gender and pay equity and it’s pushed major oil companies to include proposals insisting that they evaluate the risk of climate change to their business.

Resolutions “are a powerful way for shareholders to ask for change,” said Natasha Lamb, Managing Partner, Arjuna Capital. “We make the business argument for change,” she said.

“To avoid legal and reputational risk as the employer of 184,000 workers, Comcast must create a culture of accountability and transparency.” The resolution insisted that “Workplace harassment can harm shareholders value.”

Specifically, it asks shareholders “to urge the Board of Directors to conduct an independent investigation into and prepare a report (at reasonable expense, omitting confidential and proprietary information) on risks posed by the company’s failure to prevent workplace sexual harassment.”

The proposal mentions NBC’s firing of Lauer in 2017 “for ongoing sexual harassment of employees.” It cites Ronan Farrow’s allegations in his recent book Catch and Kill that NBC covered up accusations against the host. It noted that when NBC News Digital editorial staff voted to form a union it raised “serious questions” about NBC News’ handling of workplace sexual misconduct. It also referenced Comcast call centers, where it said the company fired three employees who filed complaints.

Each shareholder resolution listed in a proxy statement is flanked by a recommendation by the company on how they think stockholders should vote. Shareholders almost always vote the company line, but not always.

Arjuna Capital, which owns less than 1% of shares, will now send the SEC a response to Comcast’s letter and the Commission will decide whether or not to let the resolution appear on the proxy. Proxies usually come out around April, ahead of annual shareholder meetings in the spring.

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