Les Moonves Stays as CBS C.E.O. While Its Board Plans an Investigation

CBS is investigating allegations that its chief executive, Leslie Moonves, sexually harassed six women over the course of decades.

Leslie Moonves, the embattled chief executive of CBS Corporation, survived the meeting.

On Monday, three days after the publication of an article detailing allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Moonves, the company went through with a regularly scheduled meeting of its board of directors in advance of a Thursday earnings call.

Afterward, CBS said in a statement that its board was “in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation.”

The company had announced the planned investigation on Friday, hours after The New Yorker published a report that included six women who said Mr. Moonves had asked them for sexual favors and retaliated when they declined.

The CBS statement on Monday added, “No other action was taken on this matter at today’s board meeting.” And so ended the speculation that Mr. Moonves would face immediate consequences for his alleged behavior.

The New Yorker quoted four of the women by name, including the film and TV actress Illeana Douglas. She described a 1997 meeting with the executive during which, she said, he was “violently kissing” her while holding her down.

The lack of action by CBS was striking at a time when some media companies have swiftly removed prominent employees who were accused of misconduct. CBS fired the anchor Charlie Rose a day after allegations were made against him, and NBC acted quickly to fire Matt Lauer of “Today” after he, too, was accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment.

Mr. Moonves is well known in the entertainment community but has spent the bulk of his career in executive suites, rather than in front of the camera. Still, the CBS board could face recriminations from consumers and from those who believe it should have taken immediate action.

“It’s shortsighted and cowardly of the board,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management. “They think they’re showing courage on behalf of the C.E.O., but they’re just circling the wagons right now.”

Mr. Moonves, 68, has been the chairman of the CBS board since 2016, and the majority of its 14 members started their tenures after he was appointed chief executive in 2006. Three of the 14 are women, and the board’s average age is 73.

At least two members expressed concern over Mr. Moonves’s continued leadership in the days leading up to the Monday meeting in New York, two people familiar with the matter said.

The meeting began around noon and lasted more than three hours. Mr. Moonves participated in the session from Los Angeles, but he recused himself during discussions about his situation, the two people said.

In March, CBS retained the law firm Proskauer Rose to look into allegations of sexual misconduct at CBS News, a division that was a focus of the New Yorker article. The board plans to hire a separate firm to examine the claims against Mr. Moonves and CBS’s corporate culture as a whole.

Mr. Moonves has held senior management roles at the network for more than two decades. He led a turnaround at CBS, taking it from last place to the most-watched network with hits like “Survivor” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

The network’s success has largely been attributed to Mr. Moonves, who has been praised for his ability to select hit shows. He moves comfortably among Wall Street investors and Hollywood producers, speaking as easily about negotiating carriage fees as he does programming for prime-time audiences.

Mr. Moonves draws an annual pay package worth $69.3 million. If the board ultimately fires him without finding him at fault, he will draw more than $184 million in pay and benefits as part of his exit.

In a similar recent case involving a media company, Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, resigned after allegations of personal misconduct were made against him. He left the company before its board had concluded its investigation into his behavior. The company considered the matter closed, and Mr. Sorrell was allowed to cash out of his stock options and retire.

Mr. Sonnenfeld said Mr. Moonves would do well to follow Mr. Sorrell’s example. “He should pre-empt the investigation and step aside,” Mr. Sonnenfeld said. “Propositioning your own employees is not acceptable, now or then. And who knows what else will come up?”

Months before the publication of the New Yorker article, Mr. Moonves’s role was already in jeopardy because of a separate legal battle with Shari Redstone, the leader of CBS’s parent company, National Amusements. Mr. Moonves and the CBS board have sued Ms. Redstone in an attempt to prevent the parent company from trying to recombine the network with Viacom, which is also in the corporate family. The lawsuit is due for trial in October.

In May, CBS and Mr. Moonves lost one of the early rounds in the dispute when a judge ruled against CBS’s effort to reduce Ms. Redstone’s influence over the network. Through her family company, Ms. Redstone controls nearly 80 percent of the company’s voting rights. Three members of the CBS board are directly nominated by National Amusements, including Ms. Redstone’s seat.

In a separate matter that was taken up during the meeting on Monday, the board indefinitely postponed the Aug. 10 meeting date for stockholders to vote on new board members.

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