John Lasseter is taking a leave of absence from the senior creative post at Walt Disney Co.'s animation operations, he told staff Tuesday in an email that cited unspecified "missteps" on his part, including making some personnel feel "disrespected and uncomfortable."
Mr. Lasseter, 60 years old, is the senior creative executive for both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation. He is known for hugging people liberally, in public and in private.
"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," he wrote in an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
At times, said former Pixar employees contacted by the Journal, Mr. Lasseter's habit of physical affection has made some people feel awkward or uncomfortable. Because hugging is a central part of his public persona, employees felt it would be difficult to ask him not to do so, these people said.
Mr. Lasseter's note said: "everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected."
A Disney spokesman in an email said: "We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John's candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical."
A former employee told the Journal that during a meeting several years ago, Mr. Lasseter put his hand on her thigh underneath the table. The same employee said Mr. Lasseter would sometimes hold her arm in public without asking permission, and hug her for extended periods of time that made her uncomfortable. A spokesman for Disney didn't respond to a request for comment on the former employee's allegations or to a request to speak to Mr. Lasseter.
Several former Pixar employees, many of them women, said they never felt uncomfortable around Mr. Lasseter, even when he hugged them.
A 2011 WSJ magazine article counted Mr. Lasseter doling out 48 hugs in the course of a single workday.
Mr. Lasseter has directed some Pixar's biggest films, including "Toy Story" and "Cars," and has served as a public face for the studio, which Disney acquired in 2006. He also has a formal advisory role at Disney Imagineering, which designs and builds rides and attractions for Disney's theme parks around the world.
Mr. Lasseter's leave of absence comes as sexual-harassment allegations have surfaced against numerous prominent men in Hollywood and other industries. His note to staff didn't indicate that his issues have been as serious as those that have led to the firings of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and others.
PBS and CBS severed ties with Mr. Rose after the Washington Post published an article detailing sexual-harassment allegations against him by several women who had worked for him.
Mr. Rose on Monday apologized for inappropriate behavior, saying in a statement posted on his Twitter account: "I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken."
Mr. Weinstein was fired as Weinstein Co.'s co-chairman after the New York Times reported on allegations by actresses and former employees that he had engaged in sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior. Mr. Weinstein has apologized for his past behavior with colleagues but denied allegations of nonconsensual sex.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 21, 2017 18:33 ET (23:33 GMT)