The CEO of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter was pushed out earlier this week after a private internal investigation raised concerns about evidence of sexual harassment and other wrongdoing, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the outcome of the internal investigation.
The probe stemmed from allegations of sexual harassment, and expanded over the past few weeks after an audit was launched looking into other allegations of impropriety by John Amato. Sources said the probe is also examining whether the company adequately addressed complaints by staff of inappropriate behavior by top company officials.
This story is based on interviews with nearly a dozen current and former employees as well as a person familiar with the company’s business who all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Both Valence Media and Amato declined to comment.
Along with the investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations, the company recently undertook an audit of parts of the 2016 acquisition of SpinMedia for examinations of financial wrongdoing. The outcome of the audit is not known.
Over the past several weeks, concerns have grown among higher-ups at the company about Amato’s past behavior. The Daily Beast reported in May that the exec worked to derail a series of stories at Billboard and Spin about close friend and Republic Records ex-president Charlie Walk’s alleged inappropriate and unwanted advances on younger women.
After the article was published, company brass began to hear stories about Amato’s own past behavior. After initially hiring two separate outside investigators to specifically look into how the Walk stories were killed, parent company Valence brought in an additional separate outside human-resources consultant named Lisa Kaye to investigate Amato’s conduct and the company culture he oversaw.
Beyond potential involvement in financial wrongdoing, investigators have heard complaints from women who alleged that Amato particularly mistreated young female staffers.
Investigators learned about a widely witnessed event in which Amato made sexual overtures at a young marketing staffer at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. It wasn’t the only time he allegedly made comments to a younger colleague. Two people said staff were off put when he made a similar advance on a female staffer after the 2017 Billboard Awards in Las Vegas.
Staff additionally recounted being uncomfortable with Amato’s frank discussions of his sex life during work-related social events. For example, during a staff dinner at an Upper East side restaurant in 2014, the CEO allegedly boasted to colleagues about a sexually charged encounter he claimed to have had with two female A-list celebrities. Staffers described being uncomfortable as they listened to him vividly describe the physique of Jared Leto and a woman he met while partying with the actor.
And while staff told The Daily Beast that Amato was proud of Billboard's LGBTQ+ representation — the company won a GLAAD media award during his tenure — on at least one occasion, employees overheard him making comments they interpreted as insensitive to gay staffers.
And now, after Amato’s departure, the company is scrutinizing the workplace culture he fostered. Sources said the outside investigator has also heard from staff that the company did not take commensurate action over complaints against Amato’s friends.
In two separate cases described to The Daily Beast, employees who filed complaints with human resources were—within weeks—fired or had their jobs threatened for unrelated perceived offenses.
In one complaint, a now-former employee informed the company about an incident involving Julian Holguin—now the company’s executive vice-president for partnerships who was considered a protégé of Amato. In an email to human-resources director Angela Vitacco, a non-employee witness detailed how during a night out, Holguin repeatedly inquired with employees about whether they could attend a strip club, and asked repeatedly whether the strippers would sleep with him.
“He would go on to make NUMEROUS requests + inquiries regarding not only where strip clubs might be located...but also (verbatim) ‘Do the strippers here fuck?’” said a witness in an email to Billboard HR, obtained by The Daily Beast. “He would go on to ask this exact question no fewer then 7 times w/in my ear shot. There was also a comment along the lines of him wanting to ‘eat some stripper snatch’ as well as disgusting references to how ‘beat up’ he liked them.”
“Overall, grossly inappropriate + not someone I would want out in the world representing myself/any brand I might be affiliated with.”
Numerous formal and informal complaints have been made to the company against chief revenue officer Moksha Fitzgibbons, who was brought in by Amato earlier this year. On several occasions, Fitzgibbons verbally accosted business-side employees in front of other colleagues for allegedly underperforming. He yelled at staff when clients changed meeting times, and on multiple occasions he yelled at staff loudly enough that employees in other departments could hear.
Both Valence Media and Amato declined to comment.
UPDATE, July 30: After the publication of this story, Billboard investigated the complaint made against Holguin reported in this piece. According to an email sent to Billboard employees on July 27, the company concluded that there was "no merit" to the accusations in the complaint.