John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, is stepping away from his role for six months after apologizing for "missteps" he made at the studios, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
He announced the decision Tuesday just before THR published an exposé on his alleged sexual misconduct in the workplace. A source at Pixar told THR Lasseter had a habit of "grabbing, kissing," and "making comments about physical attributes” to employees and others in the entertainment industry. Variety described Lasseter as a "prolific hugger," a habit he apologized for in a memo to his staff.
"It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent," he wrote in the memo. "I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form."
According to THR, female employees at Pixar were allegedly forced to avoid unwanted kisses from the CCO, and had a specific gesture—coined "the Lasseter"—used to prevent him from putting his hands on their legs. He has also been accused of embracing employees at company meetings in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
"You’d hug him and he’s whisper in your ear, a long time,” a source told THR. “He hugged and hugged and everyone’s looking at you. Just invading the space.”
Lasseter is a scion at Pixar and Disney, where he's known as the brains behind hits like the Toy Story franchise, Frozen, and Wall-E. He was co-directing Toy Story 4 until July, when he stepped away from the project, leaving Josh Cooley in place as the sole director. Pixar tapped Rashida Jones to help write the film's script, and though she's still credited, she left the project early on over creative and philosophical differences, according to the New York Times.* (Though THR reported she parted ways with Pixar over an unwanted advance from Lasseter, Jones told the Times that was "untrue.")
In a statement to Variety, Disney said it appreciated "John’s candor and sincere apology" and would "fully support his sabbatical.” According to the memo Lasseter sent employees, he plans to come back to the company in 2018.
*UPDATE (11/22): This story has been updated to reflect Jones's denial that she left Pixar over an unwanted advance from Lasseter.
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