STX Entertainment President Sophie Watts is leaving her role at the entertainment company after complaining of harassment by her boss CEO Robert Simonds, according to two individuals with knowledge of the situation.
Watts has been absent from STX since at least December. She resigned officially on Tuesday.
Reached for comment, Watts said, “I can’t comment on any of this.”
TheWrap attempted to reach Simonds by email and phone, with no reply. Company spokeswoman Patti Rockenwagner also did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls ahead of publication seeking response.
Update: 30 minutes after the publication of this story, STX sent a press release announcing Watts’ departure. It said she would “focus on new business opportunities.”
Second update: A lawyer for STX contacted TheWrap after publication and called the story “inaccurate in many respects,” but did not address the harrassment allegation directly.
The situation is highly unusual in that Watts, one of the top women executives in Hollywood, is openly gay. Simonds, who is married and heterosexual, is accused by Watts, his subordinate, of systematic harassment.
Simonds’ relationship to Watts, who co-founded the company with him in 2012, was described by the two individuals with knowledge of the situation as “obsessive.”
From left: Producer Suzanne Todd, Sophie Watts, Susan Sarandon
“It became an unhealthy obsession of his,” said one former employee. “It was common knowledge. They had some kind of friendship that was peculiar to everybody, because it made no sense why she was being anointed the way she was. He refused to let her have her own office. They had two desks facing each other. They traveled everywhere together… [In meetings] he complimented her every second — and inappropriately so — even if she hadn’t said a word or wasn’t there.”
Both individuals with knowledge of the relationship said that Simonds insisted that Watts keep her desk in his office. When she asked to move, no other space was made available except on another floor, where she was cut off from meetings and the information flow until she moved back to Simonds’ space, one of the individuals said.
The STX lawyer Bert Deixler said: “It is true that she regularly worked at a desk in Mr. Simonds’ office, but she had her own office.”
Watts complained repeatedly about the unwanted attention, according to both individuals. In September 2016, an outside attorney was brought in who recommended that a bodyguard be present when the two were alone in the office, and that they not fly to Asia together without others present, one of the insiders said. Deixler said: “There was no bodyguard, there was no recommendation. That’s not true.”
Neither recommendation was followed, the insider said, and Watts again found herself alone on 15-hour private flights to China with Simonds.
The two individuals also said that Simonds’ wife, Anne, believed the CEO and Watts were having sex. “Bob’s wife would call and scream, ‘Get Bob on the phone, or is he with Sophie?” She then asked if the two were having oral sex in the office, the former employee said. The second individual cited the same comment by Simonds’ wife.
Neither insider said they knew of a sexual relationship between Simonds and Watts.
STX was founded by Simonds, Watts and Bill McGlashan of TPG Growth in 2012.
The fledgling company landed the Chinese film company Huayi Brothers as a co-production and slate-financing partner, raising $1 billion to spend on acquisition titles and mid-budget original films in an industry increasingly reliant on tentpole films.
In media appearances, the untested Watts was touted as a sharp young visionary paired with Simonds, an experienced finance professional. In early meetings, Simonds boasted about his young charge — and he showed off their shared office to demonstrate the progressive company culture.
Said a third person, a former STX employee with knowledge of their dynamic: “They were super close. They relied on each other in a business sense. The psychological thing was — Sophie came in without a lot of experience. Bob would listen to her opinion. And people would think: ‘What does she have on him? Why would he listen to her above people who have experience in this field?’”
The studio struggled initially, with pricey flops like Matthew McConaughey’s “Free State of Jones” and the $60 million tween sci-fi film “The Space Between Us,” which grossed only $8 million in the U.S. The studio’s lone true hit was the 2016 Mila Kunis-Kristen Bell comedy “Bad Moms,” which took over $180 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.
STX has seen a series of high-profile executives depart, including president of production Cathy Schulman and president of marketing Jack Pan. Before him, president of digital Kathy Savitt remained in the position for less than a year. Chief content officer Oren Aviv was demoted to a producer on the family franchise “Ugly Dolls.”
One of the two people who said Watts felt harassed by Simonds spoke to Watts in October at a women’s leadership event, and said she was distraught.
“She said it was horrible and she had to leave,” the individual said. “She said, ‘I can’t have a life without him. He ruins every relationship I have.’”
But the final straw appears to have occurred at Variety’s Power of Women event on Oct. 13. One witness said Watts showed up and was seated next to Simonds, although men do not typically attend the event. Watts looked pained and left abruptly, the witness said. STX’s attorney Deixler said: “She left to go to a business meeting in the ordinary course of events. She didn’t leave abruptly.”