Founder of PR Firm Shut Down Over Sexual Harassment Allegations Launches Project to Protect Women at WorkLatest
Trevor FitzGibbon, one of the founders of FitzGibbon Media, a major progressive PR firm which shut down in December 2015 amidst allegations of sexual harassment and assault against him, has co-launched a new venture aimed at—get this—creating “a culture where women can flourish both in and out of the workplace.” With the U.S. Attorney in Washington D.C. declining to press criminal charges against him, FitzGibbon has now declared himself “cleared,” and apparently, an appropriate choice to lead this initiative, called Dignity for Our Daughters.
Before it shuttered, FitzGibbon Media represented a powerhouse of progressive and leftist organizations, including MoveOn.org, NARAL, the AFL-CIO, and Wikileaks. The firm also issued statements from Chelsea Manning and helped her tweet from prison. The allegations against Trevor FitzGibbon ranged from sexual harassment to outright sexual assault; in statements to the media, staffers described six separate incidents of sexual harassment against as many women and two allegations of assault.
A PR professional in D.C. told Jezebel that FitzGibbon’s behavior was “an open secret” for some time before it became public. One woman who was applying for a job at the firm, Sierra Pedraja, alleged that FitzGibbon asked for nude photos from her over Facebook Messenger, propositioned her for sex, and claimed that a potential job disappeared when she declined. A client of the firm told the Huffington Post that FitzGibbon once lured her into a hotel room, then stuck his hand down her shirt against her will and grabbed her breast. Also according to the Huffington Post, FitzGibbon was accused of sexual harassment at his previous job at Fenton Communications.
After these allegations came to light, the entire staff of FitzGibbon Media resigned in December 2015, rather than continue to work under his leadership.
(Correction, 5:31 p.m.: A former FitzGibbon media staffer says that when the allegations came to light, FitzGibbon chose to terminate the entire staff without notice and shutter the firm. The staff did not resign voluntarily.)
But now, evidently, it’s time for FitzGibbon’s second act: in a sympathetic story on the website Shadowproof, the site’s managing editor Kevin Gosztola writes that the U.S. Attorney in Washington D.C. has decided not to bring criminal charges against FitzGibbon, which a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney confirmed to Jezebel. Three women filed criminal complaints against him, according to Gosztola’s story. He claims that all three women were represented by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred. Jezebel could not confirm if she represented them; Allred declined to comment.
The Shadowproof story suggests that the women who accused FitzGibbon of harassment may have been exaggerating, and contains a statement from FitzGibbon:
“I am sincerely sorry for my behavior and for any women who were harmed,” FitzGibbon said in a statement. “Moving forward, I have a newfound compassion and sensitivity for what women go through on a daily basis and am committed to fighting against unfair power dynamics and fighting for equality for everyone—both in my own actions and whenever I see it.”
“While the criminal allegations against me were false, I understand why women may feel the need to take things to that level considering the harassment and abuse women endure on a daily basis and often go unheard.”
The Shadowproof story also contains the news that FitzGibbon is launching a new PR firm, Mission Critical Media, with a PR professional named Ann Szalkowski, a former hypnotherapist who identifies herself as a victim of abuse. Szalkowski and FitzGibbon are also launching Dignity For Our Daughters, an apparently irony-free initiative separate from Mission Critical Media, in which FitzGibbon promotes himself as an advocate for vulnerable people in the workplace. Here is his bio from the Dignity for Our website:
The bio makes reference to unspecified “allegations of impropriety,” which, it says, helped FitzGibbon “internalize the experiences women have, the emotional work we’re expected to do, and the sometimes impossible double binds that can create for us professionally.” FitzGibbon pledges to “empathize more deeply with women” and to be an “ambassador to males” to help them become better allies.
FitzGibbon did not respond to Jezebel’s requests for comment. His attorney, Jeffrey O’Toole, provided the following statement:
In response to your voice message of this morning, this is to confirm that I am aware that three complaints were brought to the DC Metropolitan Police Department in March, 2016, two for misdemeanor charges, 3rd degree sexual abuse, and one for a felony, 1st degree, sexual abuse.
After investigation, which included an examination of documentary evidence, the Assistant United States Attorney declined to prosecute any of the charges brought by any of the three woman. Confirmation was sent to me stating that the investigation is closed and no charges will be brought against Mr. FitzGibbon. I believe that the declination to prosecute with respect the most serious of the charges, the first degree sexual abuse allegation, is consistent with the view that that charge was clearly, and demonstrably, a false police report. Knowingly filing a false police report is in itself a criminal offense.
No civil suits were brought against Mr. FitzGibbon within the applicable statute of limitation.
(None of the women who filed sexual assault charges against FitzGibbon have been publicly identified.)
In the ShadowProof story, Gosztala wrote that FitzGibbon “admits he was flirtatious, unprofessional, and out of line.” Pedraja told Jezebel that Gosztala called her story was “inconsistent” and asked Pedraja why she had “what looks like a consensual conversation” with FitzGibbon. Pedraja shared a screenshot of what appears to be that “consensual conversation” between her and FitzGibbon.
Gosztala told Jezebel that he didn’t have any pre-existing relationship or friendship with FitzGibbon that he would’ve needed to disclose in his piece. “I knew Trevor FitzGibbon before I wrote this story but I was not friends with Trevor FitzGibbon,” he said. “And I knew of him because of his professional work and because our work had intersected on Chelsea Manning who was just freed from prison. I would not claim to not know Trevor FitzGibbon.”
Gosztala is Facebook friends with FitzGibbon, and FitzGibbon previously praised him for his reporting on Chelsea Manning. FitzGibbon also published a few posts on Firedoglake, a progressive blog that was folded into Shadowproof, meaning that he has an author page on Shadowproof, although he has not written for the site.
(Gosztala also told Jezebel, unprompted, that FitzGibbon has not “at the moment” donated any money to Shadowproof. “There is no quid pro quo. This is not transactional journalism.”)
Although FitzGibbon did not directly respond to my interview requests, he did pass my phone number to Christina Tobin, the founder of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, and apparently asked her to call me on his behalf. Tobin told me that she’s worked with FitzGibbon for years and has not been sexually assaulted or harassed.
It’s unclear how FitzGibbon plans to be a strong male ambassador and ally through Dignity For Our Daughters, but we sure look forward to finding out.
Update, 6:45 p.m.:
Former FitzGibbon Media staffers have issued a statement on Medium. It accuses FitzGibbon of retaliating against people who spoke out against him, and calls his non-prosecution a failure of the justice system. It reads, in part:
Trevor FitzGibbon used the announcement that he evaded criminal charges in D.C. to promote the launch of his new firm and to retaliate against former staff who dared speak up.
In this desperate attempt to retaliate, some former FitzGibbon Media management this week released sensitive, confidential information from and about former employees. FitzGibbon’s efforts to shame victims of his abuse have resulted in significant emotional distress for former staff, and prove he has learned nothing since the closure of the firm. There is no place for this kind of behavior in the progressive movement.
The statement also adds, “We urge members of the progressive community and journalists to seriously question the credibility of FitzGibbon’s claims.”