Vice Media Group has launched an internal investigation into allegations of toxic workplace behavior at Refinery29, the female-centric site that Vice acquired last year.
CNN Business published a lengthy investigation last week that included accusations that editor-in-chief Christene Barberich made some editorial decisions that some said had the effect of diminishing black women and other women of color who worked at Refinery29 in addition to other allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior. Barberich stepped down last week and admitted that she failed to fulfill Refinery29’s mission of amplifying underrepresented female voices.
The investigation will be led by the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and the findings will be used as the basis for “appropriate action” taken by Vice Media, a company spokesperson told CNN Business.
“We take the concerns raised by employees regarding Refinery29 very seriously,” the Vice spokesperson said.
Vice declined to elaborate on the details of the investigation. A spokesperson for the Writers Guild of America, East, which represents the unions for both Vice and Refinery29, told CNN Business that the guild received an email from Vice that mentioned global president and chief content officer Amy Emmerich and senior director J.R. Johnson by name as subjects of the probe. CNN Business has reviewed a copy of the email.
Emmerich and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
Refinery29’s union had called for Emmerich’s immediate resignation in a June 11 letter sent to Vice Media management.
“In the past week, we’ve heard from previous and current staffers within the editorial, social, video, and production teams that Amy has failed them in a variety of ways, from perpetrating racist microaggressions to refusing to provide a safe and supportive working environment for the staff,” according to the letter, which CNN Business has reviewed. “Many of her hires — some of whom are her close personal friends — have been accused of bullying, harassment, and negligence. While she herself has likely not been set up for success, as the leader of the company, she is ultimately accountable for the hostile workplace thoroughly detailed in CNN’s investigation.”
Among those who reported to Emmerich was Barberich, the former editor in chief.
After this article was originally published a source close to Emmerich said, in response to the union letter, that Emmerich had hired only three friends and made two referrals over her five years at Refinery29 as the company went from 150 to 400 employees.
In the same letter, the union also asked for an investigation into Johnson’s behavior, citing public allegations that he created a “hostile work environment.”
When announcing Barberich’s resignation last week, Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubuc said she would institute a series of changes. Dubuc wrote in a memo that Vice Media is committed to an “inclusive hiring process with a diverse slate of candidates” for the open editor in chief position and is seeking to hire additional leaders. Dubuc also tasked Vice Media Chief People Officer Daisy Auger-Domínguez with a “systematic overhaul” of the hiring,workforce development and retention process. Dubuc also encouraged staffers to report concerns to human resources or through an anonymous “reporting hotline.” She added that if those concerns are not addressed to raise them to her.
Vice is also updating its employee handbook and providing additional diversity and inclusion training for managers. Last week, the company launched a virtual management training pilot for new managers.