FitzGibbon Media, a major public relations firm in Washington, D.C., that worked with a host of progressive personalities and organizations including Wikipedia, Julian Assange, the ACLU and Chelsea Manning, closed abruptly on Thursday. Several staff members alleged that Trevor FitzGibbon, the firm’s president, had committed sexual harassment and sexual assault against female staff.
The news that FitzGibbon was shuttering was first reported by the Huffington Post on Thursday evening; they cited a tweet from Sean Carlson, the firm’s senior digital director, who said the reason for the closure was because employees “would no longer follow the leadership of a serial sexual harasser.”
Jezebel reached three now-former employees, none of whom would comment for the record but who told Jezebel that the allegations against FitzGibbon included both sexual harassment and sexual assault. They said the sexual harassment had occurred against “at least half a dozen” people and that there were two instances of sexual assault that they knew about. An employee learned that a female applicant had been aggressively sexually propositioned by FitzGibbon during a job interview. The employee took their concerns about the situation to a supervisor, and a broad inquiry into FitzGibbon’s behavior brought to light the other incidents, they said.
On Thursday, several reporters received an anonymous statement from a Gmail account that appeared to represent the views of at least some of the departed FitzGibbon staffers:
The team that comprised FitzGibbon Media is incredibly sad and disappointed to confirm that allegations have been made against Trevor FitzGibbon, FitzGibbon Media founder and President, for sexual assault and harassment of multiple female staffers. 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.
“For decades, Trevor presented himself a champion of the progressive movement, claiming to support and respect women and feminist issues, from equal pay to reproductive rights, but his actions prove a hypocrisy so great that FitzGibbon Media closed its doors today, as we could no longer continue working under his leadership. 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.
According to the people who spoke with Jezebel, the majority of the staff became aware of the allegations on Sunday evening, when they received an email from FitzGibbon himself informing them he was being put on leave and was “undergoing counseling.” Over the course of this week, members of the firm discussed whether they could stay open but sever Fitzgibbon himself from its operations. But became clear, the staffers told Jezebel, that there was legally no way for the company to continue to stay open without him at the helm.
One source added that FitzGibbon’s behavior was “in complete conflict with the values he espoused and the values everyone around him holds,” and made it impossible for business to continue as usual.
“He had a position of trust and he abused it,” another added.
Another person who works in public relations and who shared clients with FitzGibbon told Jezebel female staff members at one organization had received “creepy gchats and emails” from FitzGibbon on several occasions late at night, but were reluctant to confront him or tell anyone out of a perception that he was influential in D.C. progressive circles.
Fitzgibbon did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but issued a statement to HuffPo saying the allegations against him were a “distraction” to the mission of the firm and vowing to seek to “regain the trust that was lost.” The full statement reads:
It is with tremendous regret that we had to close FitzGibbon Media. Our team was at the helm of many of the most important policy debates of our time. We were the undisputed communications leader for the progressive movement. Although the company is closing, our talents and our mission remain unchanged.
The allegations against me are a distraction to the mission at hand. In order to do what is best for the company, I took a leave of absence. However, it is abundantly clear that an irreconcilable difference has arisen between the FitzGibbon team and me. We had no choice but to make the difficult decision to close FitzGibbon media.
I apologize to my team and our clients for the impact this closing will have on them. I will work to once again regain the trust that was lost.
FitzGibbon represented a who’s-who of liberal groups and publications, including the AFL-CIO, the Daily Kos, First Look Media, and UltraViolet, the anti-sexual assault and sexual violence group.