In 2004, Pam Kaye, then a regional promotion manager for Columbia Records, was sitting in the back seat of a car next to the label’s executive vice president, Charlie Walk. She had worked with Walk for seven years, including an 18-month stint as his assistant. Over those years, Kaye says, she endured near-constant sexual harassment and inappropriate touching from the label executive. Now, as the car drove back to their Midtown Manhattan office after a late-morning meeting, she claims Walk’s behavior reached a new low.
“He took his hand and put it down the front of my pants,” Kaye, 44, tells Rolling Stone. “I had to subtly try to get his hand away. It’s like a game. He would test the limits as much as he could.” Kaye says she discreetly batted Walk’s hand away, hoping the others in the car wouldn’t notice, but Walk persisted and his hand went underneath her underwear.
“There were other people in the car and all I was thinking was, ‘Are they seeing this?'” she says. “I just felt so much shame. I always thought that people thought that I wanted something from him … which obviously I never, ever did. I always thought that people thought that I was asking for it.” Three of Kaye’s friends confirmed to Rolling Stone that Kaye detailed the incident to them shortly after it happened, including a former co-worker in the car who did not witness it directly but was told by Kaye about it immediately afterward.
“I remember her getting out of the car and being bright red,” says the former co-worker, who asked not to be named. “She was mortified and was just like, ‘I don’t know what to do.'”
It was the most severe incident Kaye says she suffered during her time with Walk at Columbia, but it was hardly the first. There was the listening party in 1998 when she was 25 and she says Walk stuck his tongue in her ear. There was the time they were at a club in South Beach in 2002 when she says Walk came up from behind her while she was dancing and started rubbing himself against her. “Do you need to change your underwear?” Kaye alleges he said to her. “You’re probably wet.” (An unnamed source provided by Walk’s attorneys, who does not know Kaye, says they were with him “90 percent of the evening” and did not witness the interaction; one of Kaye’s coworkers at the time tells Rolling Stone Kaye told her about the alleged incident shortly after it occurred.) There were the times he exposed his penis to her, Kaye says. And there were the multiple instances she claims he would toss her onto a couch in his office, lay on top of her and try to kiss her. “He thought it was funny,” she says. “I’d always push him off.”
“Everyone knew what Charlie was doing,” says Pam Kaye.
According to Kaye and 14 other people who have worked with Walk, this kind of conduct exemplified a decades-long pattern for the current Republic Group president – moreover, most described his behavior as an “open secret.” This article – which includes interviews with five women who say they were sexually harassed by Walk – is the result of interviews with almost two dozen individuals, part of a nearly month-long investigation by Rolling Stone. These five women allege Walk would behave inappropriately toward them, including making sexual comments, sending unsolicited, sexually explicit pictures and video, exposing his penis and inappropriately touching them both in private and in crowded meetings. All the women accusing Walk of misconduct fit the same criteria: They were in their early twenties, relatively new to the industry and working as assistants or in similar positions when they said the harassment against them began.
Walk categorically denies all the allegations in this article. “I did not do these things and this is not who I am,” he tells Rolling Stone in a statement. “Throughout my career I have always sought to conduct myself professionally and appropriately. It is upsetting to be presented with false claims from long ago that I know to be untrue and were never reported. I support the national discussion taking place right now because I believe fully in the importance in treating everyone with respect and dignity at all times.”
A little over a year into her job at Columbia Records in 2006, Kate Harold, then Walk’s executive assistant, took Walk up on his offer to go to dinner with him and some of his friends and business associates. Since starting the position, she says, she had endured over a year of the executive’s near-daily sexual harassment and inappropriate gestures, trying to brush it off to focus on her job. But feeling like she couldn’t say no to her boss, she accepted the invite.
“Shortly into the dinner, I went to the restroom,” Harold, 38, tells Rolling Stone. “When I came out, he was standing right outside the restroom alone… Before I could do anything, he forced his lips on mine with a quick, hard kiss and then rubbed his crotch up against me, letting me basically feel that he had an erection.”
She was stunned, unable to process what had happened. “I felt extremely dirty and ashamed,” she says. “I was embarrassed. I just felt violated and gross.” One of Harold’s co-workers confirmed to Rolling Stone that Harold told her about the incident within 24 hours.
For Harold, the encounter at the restaurant was the culmination of more than a year of “torture” by Walk in which, she says, he would consistently wink at her, blow kisses, lick his lips suggestively and massage his body in front of her. “Every day was a day of fear,” Harold says. “It was really scary and depressing and probably the worst time of my professional life. Early on in my job, he sat uncomfortably close to me and told me that he could lift my career to extraordinary heights but that I had to be ready to do ‘whatever it takes.’ He was clearly implying that I needed to be willing to sleep with him. As he was saying this, he got up close to my face and winked in a very flirty manner. I completely froze up. I was afraid of him. It made me feel horrible.”
“Sony Music believes in a safe, professional and respectful workplace and will not tolerate behavior that isn’t within these guidelines,” a rep for Sony Music, which owns Columbia and Epic Records, tells Rolling Stone in response to the allegations.
Walk has been in the music industry for more than 30 years, working with artists from New Kids on the Block to Ariana Grande. At Columbia Records, he rose from promotion manager to executive vice president of marketing and promotion before becoming president of Epic in 2006. After being let go from the label in 2008 and starting an ad agency, Walk became executive vice president of Republic Records in 2013, heading up the promotion, public relations and marketing departments.
He was promoted to president of the newly formed Republic Group in 2016, where he was instrumental in launching the careers of DNCE, Hailee Steinfeld and Julia Michaels as well as promoting hits by Drake, the Weeknd and Shawn Mendes, among many others. Walk has had a hand in promoting roughly 50 Number One hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with Billboard placing the 51-year-old exec and married father of four on their influential “Power 100” list four years in a row starting in 2015. Though Walk had mainly stayed behind the scenes, the accusations come as Walk’s public profile has risen, thanks to his role as a judge on Fox’s singing-competition reality show The Four alongside Diddy, DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainor, which premiered in early January.
But not long after his start on TV, things began crashing down. On January 29th, Tristan Coopersmith, 42, one of Walk’s former employees at Columbia, posted an open letter on her website accusing Walk of sexual misconduct. “For a year I shuddered at the idea of being called into your office, where you would stealthily close the door and make lewd comments about my body and share your fantasies of having sex with me,” she wrote. “You invited me to dinners that in hindsight I had no business being at, but you did it so that you could put your hand on my thigh under the table, every time inching it closer and closer to my sacred place. You did it so you could lean over and whisper disgusting things into my ear and I had to smile so that no one suspected anything. On multiple occasions your wife was sitting right across from us.” (A friend of Coopersmith confirmed to Rolling Stone that Coopersmith told her about Walk’s behavior at the time.)
That same day, Universal Music Group, which owns Republic Records, issued a statement. “While it appears this blog post relates to the period prior to Mr. Walk’s appointment to his position at Republic Records, we take the allegations very seriously and intend to conduct a full and complete review of the matter,” it read.
Walk also issued a statement, denying Coopersmith’s accusations. “It is very upsetting to learn of this untrue allegation made by someone who worked with me 15 years ago, without incident. There has never been a single HR claim against me at any time during my 25+ year career, spanning three major companies. I have consistently been a supporter of the women’s movement and this is the first time I have ever heard of this or any other allegation – and it is false.”
Fox also issued a statement that day, saying, “We have only recently learned of these past allegations regarding Mr. Walk. We are currently reviewing this matter and are committed to fostering a safe environment on all of our shows.”
After Coopersmith came forward, numerous former employees at Columbia, Epic and Republic began sharing their stories privately about Walk’s alleged inappropriate behavior. But after Walk issued his statement, some of them became angry at what they perceived to be a false denial – and decided to tell their stories publicly to rebuke his statement.
“I don’t think I would have ever [told my story] had he just fucking said sorry,” says Emily, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. “I know he is a gross person and had he just said sorry to [Coopersmith], I wouldn’t be interested in talking about it.”
Emily tells Rolling Stone she was in her early twenties when she started working in the marketing department at Republic in the 2010s. After she met Walk, he began following her private Instagram account, liking her photos and making “weird comments” to coworkers about how it was his “favorite” account on the app. “It was super awkward,” she says. “I didn’t even want any coworkers ever following me. The only reason I let Charlie follow me was because he was second in command.” Like Coopersmith and others interviewed for this article, Emily says Walk invited her to dinners and galas she did not need to attend for work.
Shortly after Republic laid her off, Emily says, she messaged Walk on Snapchat when she noticed that they were both in Los Angeles. She was looking for career guidance, and despite his questionable behavior at the office, she hoped that – given his senior position – he could offer some connections or advice.
Walk, she says, invited her to the Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. When she asked what was happening at the hotel, she claims, Walk sent her a photo of himself in his underwear, and a photo and video of himself with his hand underneath his underwear and part of his penis exposed. “I had wanted to believe he wasn’t hitting on me,” she says. “It brought it all home when he literally sent me pictures of his penis. Everything I thought was creepy definitely was.” (A friend of Emily’s, who was with her in Los Angeles, confirms to Rolling Stone that she saw one of the explicit images.)
Later that year, Emily found herself in the same room as Walk at a meet-and-greet for an artist they were both working with. When Walk saw her, she claims, he put his arm around her shoulder in front of another Republic staff member. “He said, ‘Look at her. Isn’t she so hot? I can finally say it now that she doesn’t work for us,'” Emily says. “Every encounter with him now would be weird considering I’ve seen half of his penis.” The Republic staff member did not respond to a request for comment.
Melanie, who asked that her name be changed, first met Walk in 2014 during a one-on-one job interview and says Walk instantly disturbed her. “I could immediately tell that he wasn’t interested in my merits, or what I wanted to do in the industry,” she says. “He was just eyeballing me up and down and staring at me very uncomfortably. It was really unsettling, nerve-racking and demeaning. He’s not asking about where I went to school, what projects am I working on, et cetera. He just immediately jumped into my appearance and what he could gather from that.” Harold says she had a similar experience: “When I first met him [for a job interview], there was no interview. He looked at me and told me I was hired.” (According to Walk, he was already planning to hire Harold before the meeting, based on a recommendation.)
Less than two weeks later, Melanie, then an employee at Island Records, met Walk again at a mixer between Republic and Island staff. She claims Walk put his arm around her in front of numerous Island executives and began whispering in her ear, trying to lure her away from her current position to work with him at Republic. “He was very uncomfortably close,” she says. “As he was talking to me, his hand moved from my neck and shoulder down my back to my ass. Being very uncomfortable by that clearly, I moved out of the way and found an exit.” A former Universal employee confirmed to Rolling Stone that Melanie told her about the incident that night.
Melanie says Walk’s behavior toward her continued in weekly meetings between Island and Republic staff, where she claims Walk inappropriately touched her on multiple occasions, including touching her leg and resting his hands on her shoulders. “He would come over to where I was sitting and blatantly flirt [with] me,” she says.
She says she was embarrassed having to endure Walk’s alleged behavior, which included winking at her and “double gunning” with his fingers in front of colleagues and high-level executives. “It was mortifying,” she says. “I was fresh out of college and just got my foot in the door and this executive is making a spectacle of me just sitting there, taking notes and doing my job. It was just ‘normal’ behavior.”
“Every encounter with him now would be weird considering I’ve seen half of his penis,” says Emily.
“Everyone saw it,” the former Universal employee, who was present at these meetings and confirmed Melanie’s account, tells Rolling Stone. She noted that she saw Walk inappropriately touch Melanie at least four times.
“[His behavior] was always an open secret,” says another former Republic Records employee. “Everyone had been touched inappropriately or spoken to inappropriately by him. It just became part of the culture.”
“Every time he made an advance I pushed him away,” says Kaye, echoing other women. “I never engaged. I pushed him off me when he would lie on top of me. I’d push his face away when he tried to kiss me and I pushed his hands away when he tried to touch me. I did my best to survive under the circumstances trying to focus on my job and getting ahead.”
For Kaye and numerous other women who spoke for this article, the fear of losing their jobs overrode the ability to speak out against Walk. “For most of my time [at Columbia], I lived paycheck to paycheck,” says Kaye, who still works in the music industry. “I would not be able to afford living without this job. This was an opportunity that I felt fortunate to have and I did not want Charlie’s actions to drive me out of doing what I loved … People were very aware what he was doing but it was almost like it was accepted like, ‘Oh that’s just Charlie being Charlie.’ Everybody talked about it. Everybody knew what Charlie was doing and everybody let Charlie do what Charlie needed to do.”
For Coopersmith, who wrote the initial blog post, the recent spate of women detailing sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men helped spur her to tell her own story. She tells Rolling Stone that she had nightmares and flashbacks about Walk following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein (“It was relentless”) and eventually shared her experiences with close friends before posting the open letter. “High levels of stress and trauma can result in memory repression. It’s a survival mechanism,” says Coopersmith. “When the subconscious is triggered, like mine was with the Weinstein allegations, you unlock, releasing a flood of stored memories and pain. Sharing my story helped the pain subside.”
Two days after Coopersmith’s letter, Universal released another statement confirming that Walk had been placed on leave while an investigation into the allegation continued. “Republic Records is committed to a safe workplace environment where employees are treated fairly and respectfully,” the statement read. “We have retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of this matter and have encouraged anyone who has relevant information to speak to the firm’s investigators. Mr. Walk has been placed on leave, and will remain on leave for the duration of the investigation.” (Attorneys for Collazo Florentino & Keil, the firm hired by Universal, declined to comment for this story. When reached for comment about the new allegations, a rep for Universal Music Group referred Rolling Stone to their previous statement.) As of Thursday, the investigation remains ongoing.
On January 31st, one day before The Four’s penultimate episode, Walk issued a statement through his attorney Patricia Glaser. “Needless to say, this is very upsetting,” Walk wrote. “Although I continue to support the ‘Me Too’ movement, there has been an extreme rush to judgment against me in this particular case which is unfair and inconsistent with anything that even actually happened. I welcome any investigation, so that in short order these unfounded and hurtful accusations can be put to rest.”
The winner of The Four is still set to receive a Republic Records contract, though Walk’s involvement, if any, remains uncertain. Fox, however, has deleted Walk’s image from all of the show’s social media platforms and website. (A representative for Fox declined to comment for this story.)
The music industry has largely remained impervious to misconduct allegations in the wake of other industries’ public reckoning of high-profile figures. Last month, however, 14 women in the music industry formed an organization called Voices in Entertainment that encouraged attendees at last month’s Grammys to wear white roses as a show of solidarity. Going forward, the group hopes to increase the number of women in executive positions and inspire mentorship so that, as co-founder Meg Harkins recently told Rolling Stone, “young women … can understand their worth, what their paths can be, and more women [are] represented across the board.”
“Every day was a day of fear. It was really scary and depressing,” says Kate Harold.
“It’s really hard to understand unless you’ve been victimized,” adds Lee Sudakoff, one of Kaye’s friends who helped confirm her story to Rolling Stone. “It’s that feeling where you really don’t feel like you can do anything and you did something wrong.”
Katherine Atkinson, a partner at Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson law firm and member of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund team advising Kaye and Harold, says that coming out is as much about the future as the present. “Women who come forward after experiencing harassment in the workplace are heroes,” she says. “They sacrifice their privacy so the next generations of women will not have to tolerate sexually demeaning behavior at work. For the first time, women are being believed.”
As the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements embolden those who say they’ve experienced sexual misconduct, women like Emily now have the confidence to come forward. “If there were ever a time where you could feel OK going to HR with anything, now would be the time,” she says. “I didn’t feel I could go to HR because I was just like, ‘He’s too powerful and it’s not worth it for me.’ That’s just not the case anymore. Don’t be scared of working in this industry because it’s fun and great. If you encounter a Charlie, don’t wait for years like the rest of us.”
“For years, I’ve been feeling shame and embarrassment,” Kaye adds, noting that friends and co-workers will notify her to this day which events Walk will be at so she can avoid him. (One of Kaye’s former bosses confirmed this to Rolling Stone.) “I am finally accepting that he did this to me and he is responsible. I was told years ago it was his word against mine and it would be really difficult to prove the harassment. People are finally listening, which is why I have the strength to finally speak.”