The fast-moving national reckoning over s****l harassment in the workplace reached the highest level of television news on Wednesday when NBC fired Matt Lauer, the co-host of its most profitable franchise, “Today,” following an allegation that he made inappropriate s****l contact with a subordinate.
NBC News told its staff it was firing Mr. Lauer some 34 hours after the woman and her lawyer visited the network headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to share details of her interactions with Mr. Lauer with company executives.
“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate s****l behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Andrew Lack, the NBC News chairman, said in a memo to the staff. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
In a division-wide meeting with his staff later in the morning, Mr. Lack said Mr. Lauer’s involvement with the woman began while they were in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics in 2014, according to two people briefed on the meeting, and that their involvement continued after they returned to New York.
On Wednesday morning, Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights lawyer with the firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson in Washington, said he represented the woman who made the complaint to NBC, but declined to publicly identify her. In a statement provided to The New York Times, he said:
“My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s Human Resources and Legal Departments at 6 p.m. on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of s****l misconduct in the workplace.
“While I am encouraged by NBC’s response to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing.”
The woman met with reporters from The Times earlier Monday, but said she was not ready to discuss it publicly.
Mr. Lauer’s ouster follows a head-spinning string of prominent firings over s****l harassment and abuse allegations, including the studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, the comedian Louis C.K., the CBS host Charlie Rose and the political journalist Mark Halperin. Still, the news of Mr. Lauer’s sudden downfall shook his industry and shared national headlines with North Korea’s ballistic missile test.
Mr. Lauer was a fixture of morning television, a presence in American living rooms for 20 years as the “Today” co-anchor but also as a face of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Winter and Summer Olympics, for which NBC is the exclusive broadcaster. The “Today” show caters to — and relies on — an overwhelmingly female audience, and Mr. Lauer is part of a cast that presents itself as a tight-knit family, with Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Megyn Kelly, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
The “Today” staff learned of Mr. Lauer’s termination just a couple of hours before going on the air. Ms. Guthrie was visibly shaken when she delivered the news at the top of the “Today” show on Wednesday morning. Describing Mr. Lauer as “a dear, dear friend,” she said she was “heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story.”
Giving the weather report, a visibly shaken Al Roker said, “I’m still trying to process the news.” Soon after announcing the dismissal, Ms. Guthrie gripped the hand of Ms. Kotb, who was rushed in as an emergency substitute host.
Mr. Lauer did not immediately comment. The network did not name a replacement for him.
The move by NBC represents one of the few examples of a company taking pre-emptive action over s****l harassment complaints before any allegations had become public.
Mr. Lauer’s dismissal was seized on by President Trump, who went on to ask in a tweet when executives at NBC and Comcast, the network’s parent company, would “be fired for putting out so much fake news.”
Mr. Lauer is the second of NBC News’s top-rated stars to lose his job in recent years. In 2015, NBC News suspended its 6:30 p.m. “Nightly News’’ anchor, Brian Williams, for several months after he fabricated accounts of his own heroics, including a false story that he had been in a helicopter in Iraq that was struck by enemy fire. Mr. Lack has since given him a show on MSNBC at 11 p.m.
Mr. Lauer has had some notable stumbles in recent years. His interview of Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump during the presidential campaign was widely panned for giving Mrs. Clinton far rougher treatment than he gave Mr. Trump.