NEW YORK – Matt Lauer was fired from NBC News on Wednesday after an employee filed a complaint about "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," the network announced.
Savannah Guthrie made the announcement at the top of the "Today" show. Lauer has been the cornerstone of the program, one of the most profitable franchises on television, for two decades.
NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in a memo to staff that it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer in his career at the network. But he said "we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."
Lauer was not immediately reachable for comment. An NBC News spokeswoman declined to comment about the details of the allegation against him.
Reporters for The New York Times had been investigating Lauer for several weeks, according to sources who had been contacted by the Times.
Lauer is the latest high-profile man in media to be brought down by allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Just last week, CBS News fired one of its own morning anchors, Charlie Rose, after a report in The Washington Post chronicled years of sexual misconduct.
The torrent began when The New York Times and The New Yorker reported on allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Since then, actors Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have been suspended or removed from projects after allegations against them became public. And other prominent journalists, including Mark Halperin of NBC and Michael Oreskes of NPR, have been fired or suspended from their jobs.
The firing of Lauer removes one of the most recognizable personalities on television, and at a time when morning news programs are increasingly important to network news divisions.
Guthrie said she was informed just moments before going on the air.
"This is a sad morning at 'Today' and NBC News," she said. "As I'm sure you can understand, we are devastated. I'm heartbroken for Matt."
Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News. On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment. pic.twitter.com/1A3UAZpvPb— TODAY (@TODAYshow) November 29, 2017
Guthrie also said she was heartbroken for the woman who accused Lauer of misconduct, noting "it's long overdue" that women feel comfortable coming forward against abusive men.
Hoda Kotb, on the set with Guthrie, said she has known Lauer for years and "loved him as a friend and a colleague."
"It's hard to reconcile the man who walks in every day" with the person who was identified in the complaint, she said.
Lauer, 59, was named a co-anchor of "Today" in January 1997 after three years as the newsreader.
"It's a really positive development in the progress of the enforcement of sexual harassment law," said attorney Patricia Sigman in regards to the outpouring of victims coming out in high-profile sexual harassment allegations.
"In the past, a lot of this has gotten swept under the rug," she said.
Sigman's practice in Altamonte Springs has been handling sexual harassment cases in Central Florida for 25 years.
"The mistake a lot of people make in reporting is they try to avoid calling it sexual harassment because they are afraid of the retaliation," she explained. "The key is to complain in the right way, and make sure you're legally protected."
Sigman hopes people take this sexual harassment spotlight and shine it locally in every office where it's needed. That means writing it all down when reporting it and being crystal clear.
"It's important to not mince words about that in your complaint," she explained. "Because too often (people) make a report they felt was letting the employer know, and the employer is saying 'we thought you just thought he was rude.'"
As far as the future goes, Sigman hopes the victims in cases such as the one involving Matt Lauer still feel safe and protected in the community.
"Will (the alleged victims coming forward) six months, a year from now, two years from now, will they have impact on their careers," she said.