John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, is leaving the company after sexual harassment complaints about his behavior. Lasseter, who started working at Disneyland as a teenager and began his animation career there, was known for his lengthy bear hugs to anyone who crossed his path. He was also accused of making comments about a co-worker’s physical appearance and grabbing and kissing employees when he was under the influence of alcohol. Employees said Lasseter was known for imbibing heavily at company-sponsored events and premieres.
While the bear hugs and associated behaviors made many people uncomfortable, it was his attitude that resulted in Disney asking him to take a leave of absence last November, a leave from which he is not returning. He is officially leaving the company at the end of the year.
A Day of Listening
While Lasseter was on leave, Disney held a day of listening, with the focus on improving the culture at both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. What managers heard from employees was that Lasseter was becoming increasingly domineering. Female employees were especially unhappy with Lasseter, and the company was long known as an old boy’s club. Out of more than 20 feature films developed by Pixar, only one had a female director. However, that female director was fired by Lasseter halfway through production.
Actress Rashida Jones told The New York Times that she left a Pixar assignment early because she did not like the way the studio treated female and minority employees, adding that women and people of color did not have an equal creative voice. She also said her decision to leave the company had nothing to do with unwanted advances, adding that she was glad to see employees speaking out about behavior that made them uncomfortable.
Sabbatical and Missteps
Last November, Lasseter announced he would take a six-month sabbatical because of missteps that made employees uncomfortable. In an email he sent at the time to employees, Lasseter apologized for the unwanted hugs or any other gesture that an employee felt may have crossed the line. Although Pixar’s film, Coco, won the Academy Award in March for best feature animation, Lasseter did not attend the ceremony. Disney did not immediately name anyone to replace Lasseter, who also served as chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation. It is possible that a woman, Jennifer Lee, may receive the position at Walt Disney Animation.
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