WASHINGTON — Former employees of FitzGibbon Media, the progressive public relations firm that shut down suddenly Thursday, accused company founder Trevor FitzGibbon of “sexual assault and harassment of multiple female staffers" in a statement.
BuzzFeed News learned Thursday the allegations were made formally against FitzGibbon through the company’s HR department. So far, law enforcement has not been contacted, a source said, but that could change in the future.
A majority of the company’s former staff — representing both accusers and other employees across the company’s offices in New York, San Francisco, London, Georgia and Tennessee — released a statement to the press.
“Staffers reported over a half dozen incidents of sexual harassment and at least two involving sexual assault committed by Trevor FitzGibbon against his own employees,” the statement from the former employees reads.
Accusers reached by BuzzFeed News declined to speak on the record. Trevor FitzGibbon’s representatives did not directly respond to the assault charges when asked Thursday evening, but distributed a statement from the company founder and president earlier in the day that called the allegations against him “a distraction” that forced the closure of the company.
In a city chockablock with PR professionals, the team at FitzGibbon stood out due to the company’s no-compromise mission when it came to advancing the progressive cause. Over the years, the firm represented some of the biggest names in liberal politics, including MoveOn, Democracy For America, labor groups, and the Center for American Progress.
Four days ago, FitzGibbon was confronted with the allegations by HR, a source familiar said. He then took a leave of absence from the company. On Monday, employees said they couldn’t continue to work at the firm unless FtizGibbon was totally separated from it. On Thursday, FtizGibbon shut the firm down.
“The allegations against me are a distraction to the mission at hand. In order to do what is best for the company, I took a leave of absence,” FitzGibbon said in a statement. “However, it is abundantly clear that an irreconcilable difference has arisen between the FitzGibbon team and me. We had no choice but to make the difficult decision to close FitzGibbon Media.”
The allegations began two weeks ago, after what one accuser said was "an incident" between Trevor FitzGibbon and a woman employee who complained to another company staffer. The incident occurred at a company retreat in Austin, Texas.
"After that, female employees began sharing stories with one another about what they had experienced, which is when we realized that this one incident was not isolated," said one former employee.
For the 30 or so employees of FitzGibbon Media, the impact of Thursday is still being felt. Employees suddenly found themselves out of a job, and those reached by BuzzFeed News said they were now hitting the crowded job market. Clients were informed of the firm’s demise in a letter sent out Thursday.
For the city’s progressive political base, the news Thursday reverberated. The progressive-minded team at FitzGibbon, as well as players in the progressive space, said the implosion of FitzGibbon and the allegations that predicated it were jarring. Email list, text messaging apps and GChat windows across the progressive movement lit up with news of FitzGibbon’s demise and the allegations surrounding Trevor. In the statement, former employees said they were “devastated.”
“For decades, Trevor presented himself a champion of the progressive movement, claiming to support and respect women and feminist issues, from equal pay to reproductive rights, but his actions prove a hypocrisy so great that FitzGibbon Media closed its doors today, as we could no longer continue working under his leadership,” the statement from former employees reads. “We lost our jobs standing up for what’s right, to ensure a safe workplace for all — and while we may have been left without jobs, benefits and long-term healthcare, we have our integrity and each other.”
Former FitzGibbon clients also expressed dismay.
“Sexual Harassment must be taken seriously and it has no place in the progressive movement or anywhere else,” leaders from women’s activism group UltraViolet, former FitzGibbon clients, told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “Every worker deserves to be treated with respect and to feel respected and safe at work. This is not a distraction from our collective mission but rather foundational to it.”
“We’re shocked and dismayed by the allegations of sexual assault and harassment at FitzGibbon Media,” read a statement from leaders at MoveOn. “These allegations must be taken seriously. There is no room for sexual assault or harassment in our movement, in any workplace, or anywhere. Our thoughts are with affected members of the former FitzGibbon team.”
Updated with additional comment from a former FitzGibbon employee.
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.