Vice Media’s workplace culture has been a topic of public scrutiny for months. The New York Times wrote a lengthy exposé on alleged sexual harassment at the company, and Vice has also been hit with a lawsuit that claims there is a systemic gender pay gap. Leaders at the deep-pocketed media company have issued mea culpas in public and private, firing a few offenders and promising to shore up internal policies to adjudicate complaints and protect employees.
On Friday morning, however, Vice staffers re-upped the pressure. A few dozen staffers tweeted out a statement from their union arguing that Vice’s investigation process for misconduct “remains deeply flawed” and alleging a “troubling pattern” in which victims of harassment or assault are asked to come forward, only to be met with inaction.
“We recognize the need for due process—for thorough investigations that pursue the facts wherever they lead,” the statement said. “But we also stand in solidarity with those who have come forward, and call for an open, timely line of communication between survivors and the legal and HR departments. Anything that might cause survivors to feel neglected—or worse, that the veracity of their stories is being doubted—is simply unacceptable in a progressive workplace.”
A Vice source, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their job, told me that the statement was prompted by a long Medium post on Wednesday from British producer Billie JD Porter, who worked on and off for Vice for years. In the post, Porter detailed what she sees as the company’s mishandling of its investigation into her complaints of harassment. Along with outlining her experience—she said she faced gross harassment and pressure to take drugs as a minor—Porter included snippets of communications with Vice HR staffers (their names were redacted), criticizing them for inertia and insensitivity.
“The past cannot be erased,” Porter wrote. “There is nothing that can undo the unspeakable things that happened to me, and other people, at the hands of Vice staff. But to coerce people into giving painful, personal details about their past, and then not to deal with these appropriately, is sickening, and a form of abuse in itself.”
In a statement on Friday, a Vice spokesperson responded that the investigation into Porter’s complaint had contributed to a staffer’s termination. But the spokesperson didn’t name the employee or detail the circumstances in which they were fired.
“We are confident in, and stand by, the integrity of our investigation, as well as the company’s response,” the Vice spokesperson said. “We conducted the investigation, as we do all investigations, in a thorough, fair and sensitive manner, and listened to and responded to Ms. Porter throughout the process. We took timely and appropriate steps, including the dismissal of an employee.”
Vice has fired several staffers for inappropriate behavior in recent months, including Chief Digital Officer Mike Germano, as pressure to change its workplace culture has mounted. It installed a new human resources chief, Susan Tohyama. She replaced Nancy Ashbrooke, who had previously worked for Harvey Weinstein and was accused of minimizing sexual harassment complaints at Vice. Co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi have also announced a number of initiatives to strengthen the reporting process for misconduct, promote inclusion among staff, and close the gender pay gap.
The Friday criticism by Vice’s union calls into question the extent to which those changes are having an impact. And it comes just days after Smith, long the face of the company, relinquished the role of Vice CEO to Nancy Dubuc, formerly of A&E Networks. Dubuc will now lead the daily operations of a media company whose content and culture has been overwhelmingly shaped by men for the past two decades.