Progressive PR firm folds after founder Trevor FitzGibbon accused of sexual …

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Progressive PR Firm Closes After Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Founder.

The clients who hired Washington PR firm FitzGibbon Media were decidedly progressive: labor unions, MoveOn, and the Center for American Progress were on the roster. FitzGibbon Media — a prominent DC-based progressive public relations firm — closed its doors Thursday after several female employees launched sexual assault complaints against founder and president Trevor FitzGibbon. In a statement obtained by the Huffington Post, former FitzGibbon employees explained that the closure was due to the sexual allegations made against FitzGibbon. “The team that comprised FitzGibbon Media is incredibly sad and disappointed to confirm that allegations have been made against Trevor FitzGibbon…for sexual assault and harassment of multiple female staffers,” the statement reads. “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.” One woman who had tried to get a job with the company recounted an instance where FitzGibbon tried to pressure her in exchange for a job. “He tried to make me feel very uncomfortable.

FitzGibbon Media made a name for itself by representing prominent political organizations including International Planned Parenthood Federation and other women’s rights advocates. Trevor FitzGibbon, a major figure in the communications industry, who counts among his clients Amnesty International, Pussy Riot, MoveOn, the American Civil Liberties Union and WikiLeaks, confirmed in an emailed statement that the company bearing his name was closing after complaints about him. “The allegations against me are a distraction to the mission at hand,” FitzGibbon said.

The public relations expert, who has been on leave of absence since complaints first emerged, added: “it is abundantly clear that an irreconcilable difference has arisen between the FitzGibbon team and me”. Jezebel learned yesterday from former employees of the D.C.-based firm that concerns over FitzGibbon’s behavior began when a woman told members of the team she was aggressively harassed during a job interview. Employees at FitzGibbon Media, which is based in Washington DC and has offices in New York, San Francisco and London, were informed of its closure during a company-wide call at 4pm on Thursday. A female client that had worked with FitzGibbon told an even more enraging story. “I got a phone call, I was literally on the phone, he came over and stuck his hand right down and grabbed my breast,” she recounted.

After Pedraja spoke up, other female employees and clients–including staffers at FitzGibbon’s former employer, Fenton Communications –stepped forward with similar allegations of his lewd behavior. The HuffPo described several women’s accounts of their interactions with FitzGibbon, once considered a powerful figure in liberal circles: One prospective employee said he propositioned her, and a client of the firm described him grabbing her breast. Ilyse Hogue, president of the firm’s former clients, pro-choice advocacy group NARAL issued a statement in support of the PR firm’s former employees: “At NARAL, we are distressed and saddened by the alleged misconduct of the FitzGibbon Media president. The circumstances behind the firm’s closure was met with condemnation by some of FitzGibbon’s clients and the firm’s staffers who were suddenly without a job. “For decades, Trevor presented himself a champion of the progressive movement, claiming to support and respect women and feminist issues,” the joint statement said.

The Guardian, which is among a handful of media outlets listed as clients of FitzGibbon Media, has spoken to five employees at the firm, all of whom were involved in drafting the statement and confirmed its authenticity. The entire team went out to a bar on Austin’s Rainey Street, where Pedraja says FitzGibbon invited her back to his hotel. “He asked me if I was ‘willing to have some fun while he’s in town,’” Pedraja tells Jezebel. “I laughed it off and he apologized and changed the subject.” (FitzGibbon is married and has three young children.) A day later, though, FitzGibbon began messaging her asking for nude photos, she says. 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.

We are devastated to see our beloved place of work closed at the hands of such a coward and hope to continue working on the social and political issues we love and care so deeply for in the future. In conversations with Jezebel and in her tweets, Pedraja stressed that she didn’t approach the media about FitzGibbon’s behavior, but quietly took her concerns to the company’s senior management, who took her seriously and acted quickly. The complaint was immediately forwarded to human resources and prompted a discussion among women at the company about their founder’s alleged past behaviour. “I think a lot of people before that had felt they were alone and isolated,” one female employee said. “We have a young staff and a lot of the incidents [are alleged to have] happened one-on-one with Trevor. Pedraja’s disclosure had a domino effect: this week, company employees learned of at least a half-dozen women who said they were sexually harassed, and two who said they were sexually assaulted. After his abrupt resignation on Thursday, several of his current employees said management reportedly looked for ways to keep the firm running, but did not think it would be feasible financially without the revenue brought in from FitzGibbon himself.

Stepanian and other staffers said Monday’s call prompted more women to come forward. “When it happened there was an avalanche of complaints,” said Stepanian, who added he knew of as many as 10 women who had made allegations and had spoken at length to four. The pieces of FitzGibbon’s behavior started to come together during a staff retreat a couple of weeks ago, when employees from all the firm’s offices gathered in Austin, Texas. Another employee, a 24-year-old media relations strategist who asked not to be named, said FitzGibbon made inappropriate comments about her body and and hugged her “in a way that made me feel uncomfortable”. According to several people who heard Thursday’s call, at which the workforce was told their company was being closed, senior managers said they had explored the possibility of keeping the firm going without its founder at the helm. She and her friend met FitzGibbon during the day in the lobby of a hotel, where he told her about the firm and invited her to hang out with the team that evening.

FitzGibbon Media said in a statement: “After much discussion and deliberations, and in consultation with legal counsel, it is with great regret that we have announced our firm is closing.” FitzGibbon, who is married with three children, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. That statement, in which FitzGibbon described the allegations as “a distraction” from the company’s leftwing mission, added that the his firm had been “the undisputed communications leader for the progressive movement”. “I apologize to my team and our clients for the impact this closing will have on them,” FitzGibbon added. “I will work to once again regain the trust that was lost.” He then asked her if she was open to having any fun while he was in town. “I knew exactly what he meant,” Pedraja said, adding that she was shocked. “I really wanted the job, but I didn’t want to embarrass him and mortify him and say, ‘No!

FitzGibbon had friended Pedraja on Facebook and told her that her photos were “insane.” He asked if she modeled and requested that she send him a “maxim” style photo, presumably referring to the men’s magazine that often features scantily clad women. “Lol no. I’m not telling anyone and I also can’t send anything I wouldn’t send a normal friend – if that makes me unfit for the position then that makes me sad,” Pedraja wrote back.

Employees were caught off guard when management told them that the firm would be closing Thursday and instructed them to be out by the end of the day, leaving staffers in the lurch during the holiday season with no notice.

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