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Could Fitbit be a flu warning tool?


This is the web version of Brainstorm Health Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top health care news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Good afternoon, readers.

Many of you likely have a Fitbit around your wrists to track those steps and all the flights of stairs climbed. A new study published in the journal Lancet suggests that it could even help suss out the flu.

Using data from nearly 50,000 Fitbit users across five states, prominent digital health experts such as Eric Topol and Jennifer Radin found that collecting the heart rate and sleep data from the devices could alert users—and care providers—to possible influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms.

“We found the Fitbit data significantly improved ILI predictions in all five states [examined],” wrote the study authors.

In fact, the researchers found, using the Fitbit data provided a major boost in state health authorities’ ability to predict the progress of flu epidemics.

This is likely linked to the number of Fitbit users out there—and, according to the report, the results were comparable to the Centers for Disease Control’s own methods of disease surveillance.

It’s still unclear if Fitbit devices will prove just as effective as more comprehensive surveillance methods for keeping track of disease outbreaks. But it’s certainly an intriguing early prospect.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy





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Pepsi to give away Zero Sugar sodas if Super Bowl team score ends in zero


Cans of PepsiCo Inc. Pepsi brand Zero Sugar soda are displayed for an arranged photograph taken in Tiskilwa, Illinois, on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

PepsiCo announced Wednesday it will give everyone in the U.S. a free Pepsi Zero Sugar if the final score of either of this year’s Super Bowl teams ends in a zero.

The company said in a press release that if such a score results, it will refund the price of the drink, up to $2.50, to anyone in the U.S. who purchases it from Feb. 2-4. It said that in 25% of previous Super Bowl games, at least one team finished with a score ending in zero.

The offer is part of a campaign the soft drink company is rolling out, which includes a new design.

“[W]e are going “all in” on Pepsi Zero Sugar this year and have created a bold, unapologetic new look to match its great taste, with a new matte black can and a black tab that will stand out anywhere,” Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s vice president of marketing, said in the press release.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will perform for the Pepsi Super Bowl 54 halftime show on Feb. 2 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The company released PepsiCafe last month, a coffee-cola beverage similar to Coca-Cola’s Coke Plus Coffee. The reintroduction of coffee-cola drinks comes as U.S. soda consumption continues to decline annually.

Shares of Pepsi are up about 1.9% so far year. Coke’s stock has risen nearly 2.4% so far this year.



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What we can learn about modern financial scams from the man who tried to sell the Eiffel Tower—twice


The Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable and well-trafficked monuments in the world. Each year, it’s estimated well over six million visitors wait in long lines to experience this gorgeous landmark. It may be hard to believe, but when it was built the tower was subject to ridicule and was only supposed to stand for 20 years before being disassembled.

Gustave Eiffel designed his namesake tower for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. No one had ever built a structure so tall before so the fact that it was erected in just over two years is a technical feat that was unparalleled at the time. Naysayers told Eiffel the tower would be impossible to build. The wind would make it too dangerous for people to ascend to such heights and the government wasn’t keen on spending an estimated $1 million on the project. Eiffel’s contract stipulated that the tower would be allowed to stand for 20 years to be able to earn enough of a profit to make it worthwhile, at which point the erector set–looking structure would be taken down piece by piece.

The engineering and construction involved required an incredible amount of precision. The iron plates used to build the tower would have stretched 43 miles long if they were laid end-to-end and called for over seven million holes to be drilled into them The iron used to construct the tower weighed over 7,000 tons and required more than 60 tons of paint. Each piece was traced out to be accurate within a tenth of a millimeter. Including the flagpole at the top, the Eiffel Tower reached 1,000 feet in height when it was finished.

Although the tower was more beautiful than most could have imagined, it was initially panned by critics. Many of France’s leading artists and intellectuals derided the tower, calling it “a truly tragic street lamp” and an “iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused, and deformed.” The Americans and Brits weren’t fans either, mostly because they were jealous. The New York Times called it “an abomination and eyesore.” Editors at the London Times referred to it as the “monstrous erection in the middle of the noble public buildings of Paris.” Americans didn’t appreciate how the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument as the tallest man-made structure at that time. Once it was completed even the most ardent critics eventually came around to the fact that it was a masterpiece, yet the government still wasn’t positive they would keep the structure in place forever. In the years after the tower was built it began to fall into disrepair. It was costing the city a fortune in maintenance and upkeep.

A man by the name of Victor “The Count” Lustig saw this situation as an opportunity to profit from the uncertainty surrounding the future of this magnificent monument. Lustig decided he would sell the Eiffel Tower to the highest bidder, not once but twice.

The plan to sell the Eiffel Tower

Lustig was a career con artist who had up to 45 different aliases. No one knows what his real name was or even where he was born. Following a short career as a gambler, Lustig transitioned into a full-time scam artist after he got to know how the wealthy class operated. His main scams centered around counterfeiting money but he even took notorious gangster Al Capone for $5,000 during a financial fraud in which involved overgenerous promises of an investment opportunity that didn’t exist. After the authorities were on his trail in the United States, Lustig went to Paris to pull off his pièce de résistance.

When he arrived there were many stories in the local papers about the dilapidated state of the famous Eiffel Tower. A lightbulb went off in Lustig’s head. He set about creating a fake government role for himself, complete with his own stationery and business cards done up with an official French seal. There was even an official-sounding, yet completely made-up title: “Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs.” He set up shop at the Hôtel de Crillon, a stone palace on the Place de la Concorde. The biggest scrap metal dealers in town were summoned to the luxurious hotel for a secret business proposal.

“Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory,” he reportedly told this group in a quiet hotel room. The Count then shocked the small group of metal dealers by announcing the Eiffel Tower would be sold to the highest bidder. Many at the table were in disbelief but Lustig assured them if the government was able to turn a profit on the deal, it would minimize the protests from citizens. There were 2.5 million rivets used in construction. The 1,000-foot tall structure contains more than 7,000 metric tons of iron, along with 2.5 million rivets that hold it together, so these scrap metal dealers could calculate the sale of this amount of metal would net a fortune to those who tore it down and sold off the parts. To make the process more believable, the dealers were even taken on a tour of the monument to give them a better sense of the scale of the operation.

Bids were due by the next morning along with the promise of complete secrecy from those involved. Lustig told his marks the government didn’t want word to get out for fear of a public outcry against tearing it down. Although he took bids from all interested parties, the patsy was picked out well in advance. Andre Poisson was relatively new to the area and trying to make a name for himself. What better way to make a name for yourself than by winning the biggest scrap metal project in the country’s history? A few days later Lustig informed Poisson his offer of 250,000 francs (roughly $1 million today) was in fact the winning bid. Once he learned he won, Poisson finally became wary of the whole operation. So to seal the deal, Lustig demanded a bribe for securing the transaction. Everyone assumed all Parisian government officials were corrupt, so the bribe was the final nail in the coffin to make it seem legit. Poisson was in.

Lustig secured the cash and handed over the “official” paperwork to finalize the sale. After a number of failed attempts to claim possession of the Eiffel Tower, Poisson finally realized he’d been swindled. By this point, Lustig had already fled the country. But a funny thing happened as he awaited a news story about the man who tried to sell the Eiffel Tower—the story never came. Lustig was initially befuddled, but eventually realized Poisson was so embarrassed he was taken advantage of that he never bothered telling the authorities to save face. Never one to rest on his laurels, Lustig decided to test his good fortune by going back to Paris to try selling the Eiffel Tower a second time! This time he wasn’t quite so lucky. The potential buyer went to the police before handing over the money, and Lustig was forced to flee the country yet again.

Everyone is in sales

Victor Lustig talked people into things because he was a master manipulator with a huge ego. But he also understood people and utilized the soft skills of trust and persuasion as well as anyone. Never one to be shy from his own accomplishments, Lustig even penned a list called the Ten Commandments of the Con. Numbers three and four on the list show how eager he was to get in the good graces of his marks:

Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.

Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.

Trust is a huge component of the sales process because we prefer doing business with likeable, trustworthy people. When our ancestors were in small tribes and villages, the people around us were those we trusted the most, so our brains are hardwired to be more comfortable with people who seem trustworthy. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword as the people who often seem the most trustworthy are also the ones who possess the ability to take advantage of you.

The business world or financial markets would never function as smoothly as they do if there wasn’t an element of trust involved. Those with good people skills and the ability to sell will almost always have a leg up on the competition because they can use their persuasive powers. However, those powers can be used for good or evil.

Trust, but verify.

This piece was adapted from the book Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams by Ben Carlson.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Forget policymakers. Greta Thunberg and her allies are targeting CEOs now
—Investors see a 2020 recession coming—but think they’ll make money
—The Carlos Ghosn affair: A look inside the motivations of a fugitive CEO
Laws meant to close down tax havens and shut loopholes could have opposite effect
—What a $1,000 investment in 10 top stocks a decade ago would be worth today
Subscribe to Fortune’s forthcoming Bull Sheet for no-nonsense finance news and analysis daily.



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600 HealthHUBs will be opened by the end of 2020


CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo told CNBC Monday that the health retailer is on track to meet its goal of rehabbing more than one thousand of its stores and said the chain is seeing positive early results.

CVS launched three of its HealthHUB concept stores in the Houston, Texas region near the end of 2018 and expanded the program to 50 locations in four markets by the end of 2019, he said. Hundreds more are scheduled to be overhauled by the end of 2020.

“We’re really excited about what we’re seeing from the consumers. The acceptance, the interest that is growing with our clients,” Merlo said in a sit-down interview with Jim Cramer on “Mad Money.” “We’ve made a commitment to have about 600 hubs by the end of this year. That’s 12 [updated stores] a week with a trajectory of 1,500 hubs by the end of 2021.”

CVS has more than 9,900 locations situated in 49 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, North Carolina and Ohio are among the next markets that CVS is targeting for its HealthHUB expansion this year. With its HealthHUBs, CVS wants to offer more health services and products to customers, which is tailored around the company’s $70 billion acquisition of Aetna. Florida, Maryland and Virginia are also on the list to carry the new concept in the first half of 2020.

Merlo said the idea is to make CVS a “health-care destination.”

CVS is redesigning about 20% of the real estate in its front stores to carry more health-related services, including walk-in clinics, care concierges and other pharmaceutical missions. The renovations coincide with rival Walgreens‘ plans to rehabilitate its stores in an attempt to drive more foot traffic.

While Merlo welcomes the early results that he has seen in the stores, he said it is too early to say how effective they will be due to a small sample.

“We’re seeing increased traffic in the stores, we’re seeing higher front-store margins and we are seeing terrific utilization of the health-related services,” he said. “So we’re really pleased with what we’re seeing.”

CVS shares posted a 13% gain in 2019. The stock is down about 2% thus far in 2020, closing Monday’s session at $72.76 per share.

Disclosure: Cramer’s charitable trust owns shares of CVS.

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Oscar Nominations 2020: Here’s What to Expect


Who will be celebrating Oscar morning? Brad Pitt for sure. Jennifer Lopez almost certainly. And very possibly the Obamas, too.

Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards, which will begin at 8:18 a.m. EST Monday, should bring plenty of star power to the Feb. 9 ceremony — a good thing, too, since the show will for the second straight year go without a host.

Thankfully, this Oscar year isn’t lacking for drama. Netflix is gunning for its first best picture win, a year after Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma fell just short. It has not just one but at least two contenders led by Martin Scorsese’s elegiac crime epic The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s intimate divorce drama Marriage Story.

But in the lead up to Monday’s nominations, much of the momentum has gone to a pair of movies that exalt the big screen with showmanship and celebrity: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, with Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and Sam Mendes’ continuous World War I thrill ride, 1917. Hollywood, in the midst of a streaming upheaval, has so far favored the traditionally released movies.

Still, no definite front-runner has emerged, and nominations morning could tip the scales anew in a rapid-paced awards season that, while not lacking for the usual battery of parties, screenings and Q&As, is more condensed than usual.

The nominations, to be read by Issa Rae and John Cho, will be live streamed on Oscar.comOscars.org and the academy’s digital social platforms. The second wave of nominees will begin at 8:30 a.m. EST and be carried live on Good Morning America.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences select anywhere from five to 10 nominees for best picture, depending on how many first-placed votes a film gets. That’s usually meant eight or nine movies. This year, the precursor guild nominations have suggested the sure things are Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, 1917, The Irishman, Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit and Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite.

That leaves a few slots to be battled out by Joker, Little Women, Ford v Ferrari, Knives Out, Bombshell and The Farewell.

Parasite will be the first Korean film ever nominated for an Oscar but it’s likely to land several nominations, including Bong for best director and possibly Song Kang Ho for best supporting actor.

The director category will be especially closely watched. Though Greta Gerwig (Little Women) is a possibility, the academy is expected to nominate an all-male field despite a year in which women made significant gains behind the camera. The academy has nominated only men for best director in all but five years; Gerwig was the last woman nominated, two years ago.

In the acting categories, Renee Zellweger (Judy) has consistently led the best actress contenders. Should Awkwafina be nominated, she would be only the second woman of Asian descent nominated in the category. (The first, 1936 nominee Merle Oberon, hid her South Asian heritage.)

Pitt has a lock on the supporting actor Oscar, which would be his first ever. Laura Dern (Marriage Story) and Lopez have led the supporting actress nominees. A nomination would be the first for Lopez.

The best actor category, after a few lackluster years, has been especially competitive, with Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Adam Driver (Marriage Story) as the most entrenched nominees in a field including DiCaprio, Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name), Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems) and Robert De Niro (The Irishman).

While a similar result Monday is unlikely, the British Film Academy last week nominated an all-white field of acting nominees. Widely criticized, the BAFTAs pledged to review its awards process.

Beyoncé will likely add an Oscar nomination to her many honors, for her Lion King song. American Factorythe first release from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, is likely to be among the documentary nominees.

After the most dominant box-office year in Hollywood history, the Walt Disney Co. will have reasons to celebrate Monday, though their top films — including the record-setting Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Endgame — are expected to be largely relegated to categories like best visual effects. The studio, which has never won a best picture Academy Award, does have a few contenders via its acquisition in April of 20th Century Fox. Both Ford v Ferrari and Jojo Rabbit (released by specialty label Fox Searchlight) will compete in the top categories.

The 92nd Academy Awards will take place Feb. 9 in Los Angeles at the Dolby Theatre. ABC will again broadcast the show, viewership for which last year rose 12% to 29.6 million.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Could Disney have more faith in X-Men spinoff The New Mutants than Fox did?—Inside 1917: Designing a World War I battlefield
—Greta Gerwig and cast reveal how they reinvented Little Women
—How Neil Young’s eccentric online home was born
—How Netflix transformed the peak TV terrain in the 2010s

Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.



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Ousted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg Will Leave Job With $62.6 Million



Jan 10 (Reuters) – Boeing Co’s ousted chief executive officer, Dennis Muilenburg, stands to receive $62 million in long-term incentive, stock awards and pension benefits, but forfeited $14.6 million and will receive no severance, the plane maker said in a regulatory filing on Friday.

Muilenburg was fired from the job in December as the company failed to contain the fallout from a pair of fatal crashes that halted output of its bestselling 737 MAX jetliner and tarnished its reputation with airlines and regulators.

He was replaced by Boeing board chairman David Calhoun, 62,a turnaround veteran and former General Electric executive who has led several companies in crisis.

Calhoun, who starts as CEO on Monday, will receive a base salary at an annual rate of $1.4 million and is eligible for $26.5 million in long-term incentive compensation, Boeing said in a filing.

Boeing said in November Muilenburg had volunteered to give up his 2019 bonus and stock awards. For 2018, his bonus and equity awards amounted to some $20 million, according to filings.

“Upon his departure, Dennis received the benefits to which he was contractually entitled and he did not receive any severance pay or a 2019 annual bonus,” Boeing said in a statement.

The 737 MAX has been grounded since March. The deadly accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia within five months killed 346 people.

The severance disclosure follows Boeing’s release late on Thursday of hundreds of internal messages that contained harshly critical comments about the development of the 737 MAX, including one that said the plane was “designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

Speculation that Muilenburg would be fired had been circulating in the industry for months, intensifying in October when the board stripped him of his chairman’s title – although he had also twice won expressions of confidence from Calhoun.

Boeing also disclosed that Kevin McAllister, who was firedas CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines in October, forfeited $52.9million in unvested equity awards and other compensation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Tracy Rucinskiin Chicago; Additional reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Eric M. Johnson in SeattleEditing by Shounak Dasgupta and Matthew Lewis)





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Online mattress seller files to go public


Samurai Messenger Service prepares to deliver a packaged mattress from the bed delivery company Casper in New York.

Yana Paskova | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Privately held mattress maker Casper Sleep on Friday filed the regulatory paperwork to take the company public on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “CSPR.”

Casper, which started out selling mattresses on the internet five years ago, said it lost $92.1 million in 2018 and $73.4 million in 2017, according to its stock registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It said it brought in net revenue of $357.9 million in 2018, of $250.9 million in 2017 and of $169.1 million in 2016.

Casper calls itself a “pioneer of the sleep economy” and values the global market at $432 billion. Casper’s potential reach in North America and Europe targets a market valued at $67 billion of that, leaving it plenty of runway for growth, the company said. Casper operates in seven countries today and says it could grow to more than 20.

The company now sells pillows, sheets, night lamps and other bedroom accessories. It also has opened 60 of its own brick-and-mortar stores and has wholesale partners including Target.

Following its latest round of funding announced in 2019, Casper was valued at $1.1 billion. Some of the company’s celebrity investors include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and rapper 50 Cent. Casper didn’t disclose in its Friday filing how much money it plans to raise or the valuation it will seek to go public.

Casper said it could have at least 200 stores “over the coming years” in North America alone. Its newer stores span between 1,750 and 2,250 square feet, on average. The company also said in the filing that its direct-to-consumer sales in cities where Casper has a store have grown “over 100% faster on average than cities without a Casper retail store.”

But the mattress market has exploded with new entrants, including Purple, Leesa, Nectar and Tuft & Needle. Tuft & Needle merged with Serta Simmons Bedding in 2019. Amazon and Walmart have both incubated their own mattress brands that they sell online. Casper in its filing lists Tempur Sealy International, Serta Simmons and Sleep Number as competitors.

The explosion of competition is one reason Casper has pivoted to say it wants to be more than just a mattress company. Its co-founder Neil Parik has said Casper aims to be the “Nike of sleep.”

Not everyone is buying that, however.

“It’s another company that loses more money as it grows and realizes it needs a new business model in order to compete in a crowded market,” Michigan Ross School of Business professor Erik Gordon told CNBC. “Buyers are not going to go wild for it.”

Casper said it spent $422.8 million on marketing from 2016 to Sept. 30 of last year.

It said it plans to grow by rolling out new products and services that include “digital apps, meditation, sleep programming and counseling.”

Casper’s initial public offering comes on the heels of a number of other e-commerce-focused businesses going public, including apparel retailer Revolve, the high-end secondhand marketplace The RealReal and online pet company Chewy.

Casper said that as of Dec. 31, it employed 597 people full time and 234 people part time.

Philip Krim has served as Casper’s CEO since October 2013. The company’s board of directors also includes Karen Katz, former Neiman Marcus CEO, and Dani Reiss, CEO of Canada Goose.

Read Casper’s full S-1 filing here.

Casper was named No. 8 on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list in 2019.



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Mark Zuckerberg Ends His Annual Challenge Tradition in Favor of a ‘Longer-Term Focus’


Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution: No more public New Year’s resolutions.

The Facebook chief executive officer, who in January usually shares a “personal challenge” for the coming year, said Thursday he’s forgoing that tradition in 2020. Instead, Zuckerberg said he will “take a longer term focus” this decade to prioritize projects that will take much longer to come together.

“Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I’ve tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I’m focusing on those things,” he wrote on his Facebook page. Among the big ideas he listed: funding millennial “entrepreneurs, scientists and leaders;“ building a privacy-focused social platform; developing virtual and augmented reality products; and “establishing new ways for communities to govern themselves,” such as his company’s new content oversight board.

Facebook is already working on most of the long-term ideas Zuckerberg laid out in his post, making them arguably less personal than past challenges. Some of the CEO’s pledges have also opened him up to criticism. Last year, Zuckerberg resolved to “host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society—the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties.” In his talks related to the pledge, he spoke almost exclusively to white men.

In 2017, Zuckerberg resolved to visit all 50 states, a countrywide tour that spawned rumors that he wanted to run for president. Prior challenges included learning Mandarin and a promise to only eat meat that he killed himself.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Greenpeace ranks China’s tech giants on renewable energy
Facebook deepfake video ban may set off ‘cat and mouse’ game
—Why there are so many scooters in Los Angeles
—What a $1,000 investment in 10 top stocks a decade ago would be worth today
—Missile strike vs. cyberattack: How Iran retaliates
Catch up with Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily digest on the business of tech.



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’60 Minutes’ Producer Says CBS Retaliated After She Told HR About Her Boss’s Misconduct


A “60 Minutes” associate producer is suing CBS, claiming she was harassed by her boss, longtime producer Michael Gavshon, and then ostracized at the show after speaking up about his behavior. 

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday, comes a little more than a year after the famed television newsmagazine supposedly cleaned house in the wake of a series of sexual misconduct scandals that led to the ouster of the show’s executive producer, Jeff Fager, and the network’s CEO, Les Moonves, among others.

In the complaint, associate producer Cassandra Vinograd said that after formally complaining to CBS executives about Gavshon in September, she was retaliated against by the network. 

Vinograd told executives over email and in person that Gavshon was frequently drunk at work, making it hard for her to work with him. She shared with executives an old photo he sent her via text message late at night, of him urinating on a campfire. An hour after sending the text, Gavshon texted that he was “sorry” and that the photo was meant for his sister. For Vinograd, the photo was the last straw.

In a statement Tuesday, Gavshon said that he meant to share with his sister an old photo of him with a friend who had just died, showing the two of them in an act of adolescent rebellion at the end of school exams. He said he was “mortified” to find out he’d sent it to Vinograd and “apologized profusedly” to her at the time. He also refuted her claim he was drunk at work.

Since speaking out, the 35-year-old journalist has been “stripped of all her work responsibilities,” according to the lawsuit. “CBS has failed to give Cassie a single assignment. Further, she is consistently excluded from work meetings, calls and emails.“

Gavshon, who’s been with CBS for more than 30 years, produces segments for  Anderson Cooper, also a host at CNN, and Jon Wertheim, executive editor for Sports Illustrated.

"60 Minutes" producer Michael Gavshon (right), pictured here with Steve Croft in 2017.



“60 Minutes” producer Michael Gavshon (right), pictured here with Steve Croft in 2017.

“In December 2019 CBS remains committed to insulating and protecting powerful men — the ‘talent’ — at the expense of its female employees,” the lawsuit reads.

CBS News, in a statement Tuesday night, said it was “in the process of reviewing the complaint” and that it planned to “vigorously defend” itself against Vinograd’s lawsuit. 

“CBS thoroughly and immediately investigated the matter in accordance with its policies. Subsequently, Ms. Vinograd asked to no longer work with Mr. Gavshon and CBS has made every reasonable effort to honor this request,” CBS News said, adding that it “vehemently” denied any retaliation.

CBS News then referred to Gavshon’s statement, which said in full:

At the end of September, I was speaking to my sister in Johannesburg on Whatsapp. She and my elderly mother had returned from the funeral of a childhood friend. We were reminiscing and we decided to share some pictures of him. I sent her a picture of me with my friend who had just died and two others burning our school notebooks after our final high school exams. I was 17 years old at the time. In the photo, my friend who passed away and I were urinating on the fire ― it was an act of immature adolescent rebellion 46 years ago. 

An hour later, to my horror, I realized that I not only sent it to my sister, but I had accidentally included my colleague, Cassandra Vinograd, the associate producer with whom I work at 60 Minutes in London. I immediately deleted the picture and apologized profusely. I was mortified. The following day I went in early and reported the incident. I cooperated with an investigation by the company and was told not to come into work during the course of the investigation. I continue to regret this mistake and sincerely apologize for it. 

I also want to refute Ms. Vinograd’s allegations regarding drinking and add that I have an established record of responsible behavior at work over the last thirty years.

Vinograd, who previously worked at The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and NBC News, began interviewing for an associate producer opening at “60 Minutes” in early 2019. Fager was fired months before, after bullying a reporter and amid other accusations of workplace misconduct. The show had also fired correspondent Charlie Rose in 2017, after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Moonves was gone, too, another ouster over sexual misconduct.

The show’s executive producers told Vinograd that it was a good time to work there, according to her complaint. The network “got rid of all the assholes,” the producers told her.

The network had promoted Susan Zirinsky to run the news division, the first woman ever in the role, and she promised a new day.

“The #MeToo movement isn’t behind us, it’s alongside us in our thinking. There will be a new and more powerful human resources person in the news division that is working on culture change,” Zirinsky, who’s been with CBS since she was 20, told the Los Angeles Times in January. “It’s really important to me to have an environment where there is transparency, where you can talk, where there are reactions based on actions.”

Vinograd sent an email to Zirinsky and several other executives in September, after she received Gavshon’s inappropriate text.

“Based on what has taken place, it is impossible for me to do a professional job and go into the office every day,” she wrote to the New York-based executives, according to a copy of the email dated Sept. 30 included in the lawsuit. 

Vinograd, who is based in London, said she was afraid the harassment couldn’t be properly investigated overseas. “I fear the events might not be properly investigated or reviewed in London given how small the team is … I’ve reviewed the Code of Conduct, which is why I’m copying in the Head Ethics Officer. Again, I’d like your help looking into this and ensuring I’m protected from retaliation. Please contact me as soon as possible,” she wrote in the email.

Vinograd shared more details about the photo and Gavshon’s drinking on a call with Michael Roderick, a vice president in employee relations, and Benjamin Matos, another senior HR executive, shortly after sending the email, according to the complaint.

“Cassie told them that Gavshon’s drinking was unprofessional, inappropriate and made it difficult for her to perform her job,” according to the lawsuit.

Roderick and Matos told her they’d investigate, but also advised Vinograd to tell Gavshon that she was sick and to stay home pending the results of the investigation. According to the suit, being asked to lie surprised Vinograd.

By Oct. 2, at home and hearing nothing, Vinograd followed up by email. She said she was surprised at being “effectively suspended” while Gavshon remained at the office.  

“That’s contrary to what I understood were the policies at CBS regarding sexual harassment,” she wrote in the email, included in the lawsuit. “I am truly distressed to find myself in the situation of being ready, willing and able to work and yet not feeling comfortable to be in the same room as the person who was repeatedly drunk on the job and which culminated in him sending me a photograph of him and his penis.”

Read the full email here:

I wanted to follow up on our conversation today during which I explained again the circumstances underlying the sexual harassment complaint (filed and detailed to you on Monday) and also expressed my surprise that I had been advised by HR and Compliance to say I’m sick and stay home from work ― with the result that I have effectively been suspended, while the person who harassed me (and for whom I have photo proof of said harassment) is still at the office. That’s contrary to what I understood were the policies at CBS regarding sexual harassment. I am truly distressed to find myself in the situation of being ready, willing and able to work and yet not feeling comfortable to be in the same room as the person who was repeatedly drunk on the job and which culminated in him sending me a photograph of him and his penis. I wanted to reiterate per our phone conversation that, as you know, I’m not sick ― but I do not feel comfortable going to work directly with him as a supervisor. I would like to know when I can return to work without feeling uncomfortable.

Vinograd finally returned to the office on Oct. 8, having been assured Gavshon wouldn’t be there. Shortly after that, an HR representative told Vinograd that Gavshon was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Roderick, a vice president in employee relations, shared a memo with her about HR’s investigation. He said they could find no evidence of Gavshon drinking to excess.

“We did not determine that his consumption was excessive or that it impacted his work performance,” the memo reads, according to a readout provided to HuffPost by Vinograd’s lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at the New York firm Wigdor. “None of the witnesses interviewed said that they had seen Michael drinking excessively during work hours.”

Vinograd wasn’t told who was interviewed, Christensen said.

The memo said Gavshon’s text, while inappropriate, was a mistake. “We accept his explanation that he sent this photo to you entirely by accident and believe that this was an isolated incident with no malicious intent on the part of Michael,” an excerpt from the memo included in the lawsuit reads.

In the lawsuit, Vinograd rejects this explanation.

“There is no explanation for Gavshon’s texts. Regardless if he was drunk and sent it to Cassie by ‘mistake’ when really it was meant for his own sister, or if he sent it to her hoping that Cassie would ratify the inappropriateness by saying it was ‘funny’ or some such comment that would open the door to Gavshon’s ability to send her more photos in the future, it was not ok,” the lawsuit reads.

Nevertheless, according to the suit, HR representatives told her to meet with Gavshon, face-to-face, and try to work things out, apparently without any mediator.

Things didn’t work out. 

Gavshon cut her out of all his future work, according to the lawsuit. He even blocked her from finishing a segment on Brexit that Vinograd said she had pitched and worked on.

“What am I supposed to do in this situation? It’s clearly still business as usual. I do *not* want to be communicating with him but I don’t want it to seem like I’m shirking my job responsibilities,” Vinograd wrote in another email to CBS HR executives, per the lawsuit.

“They told her she just needs to work it out with the guy,” said Christensen, Vingorad’s attorney.

“CBS Human Resources failed Cassandra Vinograd,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a women’s activist group that played a big role in pushing CBS to reform more than a year ago.

“This incident exposes how woefully ill-equipped HR is to navigate these competing interests ― protecting their employees and their corporate bottom line,” Thomas continued. “It is clear that CBS has a lot more to do to make sure that its employees are protected when they report sexual abuse in the workplace.”

Thomas said that CBS could produce real change by putting in place an independent body to address harassment claims.

Christensen said that Vinograd, who hasn’t done any work in months, feels her professional reputation is at stake and that she had no choice but to file a lawsuit.

The attorney emphasized that the crux of the case is not Gavshon’s behavior, per se, but CBS’s response.

“They’re saying we’re giving a safe place for women to speak out when they think something is wrong,” Christensen said. “And they haven’t. Talk at your own risk.”

The article has been updated with responses from CBS News and Michael Gavshon.





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Business World

Pier 1 to close nearly half its stores as bankruptcy rumors persist


Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Pier 1 Imports on Monday said it intends to close up to 450 locations, or almost half its fleet of 942 stores, as it unexpectedly reported quarterly earnings amid bankruptcy rumors.

Pier 1’s losses have been mounting, as its sales decline. And this latest quarter was no exception. Its third-quarter loss widened from a year ago, as same-store sales declined 11.4%.

The company said it also plans to shut certain distribution centers and reduce its corporate expenses, which includes slashing its corporate headcount.

“Fiscal third quarter sales and margins remained under pressure,” CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we believe that we will deliver improved financial results over time as we realize the benefits of our business transformation and cost-reduction initiatives.”

Pier 1 shares remained halted as the earnings report came out. Earlier in the afternoon, the retailer’s shares tanked more than 25% before being halted for news, following a report from Bloomberg that said Pier 1 was preparing to file for bankruptcy. The stock was also briefly halted due to volatility earlier Monday.

A representative from Pier 1 didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment about the Bloomberg report.

For the quarter ended Nov. 30, Pier 1 said in a press release that its loss widened to $59 million, or $14.15 per share, from a loss of $50.4 million, or $12.49 per share, a year ago.

The loss in the latest period includes $10 million in restructuring costs that include professional fees, and a non-cash charge of $14.1 million for store impairment. The per-share figures reflect a 1-for-20 reverse stock split in June 2019, Pier 1 said.

Net sales fell 13.3% to $358.4 million, from $413.2 million a year ago.

Same-store sales dropped 11.4%, hurt by slower foot traffic in stores. The timing of this year’s holiday also hurt results in the latest period, the company said. But it added that should benefit its fourth-quarter results.

In November, Riesbeck was named CEO, replacing Cheryl Bachelder, who had been serving as interim CEO since December 2018. Riesbeck had been Pier 1’s CFO since July 2019 and has prior experience in turnaround situations.

With Monday’s results, Pier 1 has posted sales declines for nine consecutive quarters. The home furnishings giant has lost market share to the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Target and Wayfair. It has struggled to draw shoppers into stores.

During an earnings conference call in September, Pier 1 executives said the company was planning to shutter about 70 stores in fiscal 2020, and potentially more, depending on how situations with landlords pan out.

Pier 1 had already been on many analysts’ bankruptcy watch lists, with its weakening financial situation and large debt load.

As of Nov. 30, the company listed $189.5 million outstanding under a senior secured term loan, $50 million of borrowings under a first-in last-out tranche and $96 million of borrowings under a $350 million revolving credit facility. It said it had $158.5 million remaining available for cash borrowings.

Before joining Pier 1, Riesbeck was CFO at FullBeauty Brands, in addition to serving as CEO and president at furniture company H.H. Gregg and as an operating executive at private equity firm Sun Capital Partners.

“Although decisions that impact our associates are never easy, reducing the number of our brick-and-mortar locations is a necessary business decision,” Riesbeck said on Monday.

The company hasn’t disclosed which locations it plans to close.

Pier 1’s stock is down more than 40% over the past 12 months. It has a market cap of just about $22 million.



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