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Sexual Harassment Matters: PR Firm Folds Following Accusations

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 21, 2015 2:59 PM

Add this to the list of reasons to take sexual harassment seriously: not only is it illegal and unethical, but it can sink the whole company.

That's just what happened to FitzGibbon Media, the Washington, D.C., public relations firm that folded just days after claims about widespread sexual harassment were revealed.

Progressive in Name Only

In the few years that it's been around, FitzGibbon Media made a name for itself among progressive and liberal groups. It worked with groups like the AFL-CIO, Wikileaks, and NARAL and its website touts its successes in fighting sex trafficking and publicizing sexual assault in the military.

That image changed last Thursday after multiple employees accused Trevor FitzGibbon, the firm's president and founder, of sexual harassment and sexual assault, according to The Huffington Post. Those accusations include everything from propositioning potential employees to groping the firm's own clients -- that's clients, in the plural.

Once workers began speaking to each other and the accusations became public, FitzGibbon Media's implosion was almost instantaneous.

Lessons for In-House Counsel: Be Proactive

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's from Trevor FitzGibbon's former employer. Before opening his own shop, FitzGibbon worked at Fenton Communications, another large P.R. firm. When FitzGibbon was accused of sexual harassment, Fenton responded proactively. According to a statement by Fenton's current CEO, Bill Werde:

The firm immediately investigated the claims and brought in a nationally recognized workplace expert to conduct a day long training with all employees in the Washington office, focused on preventing and handling any incidences of sexual harassment. Employees were also offered follow-up consultations with the expert.

After that response, other women came forward, emboldened by knowing that their complaints would be taken seriously. FitzGibbon was closely monitored and no other complaints were brought forward during the rest of his time there.

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