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The HR and PR Implications of David Letterman

I have been a HUGE fan of David Letterman for years.   One of the reasons why I think he’s so hilarious is that his humor also demonstrates that he’s extremely intelligent.  That’s why I was somewhat shocked at his recent revelation that he had been the victim of a plot to blackmail him about his sexual relationships with some of the women who worked on his show.  http://abcnews.go.com/entertainment/david-letterman-admits-sexual-affairs-staffers-details-extortion/story?id=8728424

What’s the big deal, you ask – after all, he wasn’t married at the time and they’re all consenting adults, right?  I must admit this was my first reaction as well.   But the employment lawyer/hr consultant in me quickly took over and brought to mind why this situation is fraught with problems.   First, because these women ultimately reported to Mr.  Letterman, he opened up his company World Wide Pants (man, I bet he regrets that name now!) to potential liability for sexual harassment lawsuits from the women themselves.  In my legal practice, I have seen many work relationships that allegedly started out as consensual become the basis for a lawsuit when one party decides to end it or otherwise feels disrespected.   Second, he has also opened the company up to potential lawsuits from the coworkers who were not “involved” with Mr. Letterman, who may now allege that they were subjected to a hostile work environment because of a sexually-charged atmosphere, or that they were passed over for promotions and other opportunities (like appearing on air as one of his alleged romantic interests did) because they refused to engage in a sexual relationship with him.   No matter what the actual merit is to these types of claims, investigating and defending these matters are expensive and can be a huge distraction from the day-to-day matters of the business. 

The matter is also a huge public relations nightmare.   I am definitely not a believer in the adage “any publicity is good publicity.”   I’m sure CBS and Mr. Letterman would much rather be focused on garnering buzz from the show’s guests and sketches rather than Mr. Letterman’s own scandal.   To his credit, however, I think Mr. Letterman did do something right – he put the issue out there before anyone else could.   This is a great lesson in crisis communications from which all businesses and individuals can benefit.   Unfortunately, at some point, we’ll all have less than favorable information to report.  The best thing you can do is deal with it head on and inform your constituents on how you will solve the problem. 


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