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Bumble Beckons as ViacomCBS Parts Ways With Top CBS Lawyer

Nov. 2, 2020, 6:19 PM

ViacomCBS Inc. is breaking up with Laura Franco, a longtime lawyer at legacy CBS Corp., nearly a year after CBS and Viacom Inc. created the New York-based media giant in a mega-merger that consolidated two legal departments.

The company disclosed in an Oct. 30 securities filing that Laura Franco, who since early 2019 has been general counsel for all CBS-branded businesses, will serve in a consulting role from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 and then leave ViacomCBS.

Franco, who joined legacy Viacom in 1995, moved to CBS a decade later when both companies split apart before reuniting last year. Franco already has a new legal job lined up, noting on her LinkedIn profile that this month she began serving as chief legal and compliance officer at dating app Bumble, which could soon go public.

Elizabeth Monteleone, director of legal affairs for the Austin, Texas-based company, which does business as Bumble Trading Inc., confirmed Franco’s new role in an email to Bloomberg Law. Franco didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about her decision to join Bumble, which in June settled a key patent dispute with online dating rival Tinder and its parent company, Match Group Inc.

Bumble, which was acquired in late 2019 by the Blackstone Group Inc. in a deal valuing its parent company at $3 billion, in October saw its new owner seek a $285 million dividend as online dating surged in popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bloomberg News reported in September that Bumble has held talks with banks about an initial public offering in early 2021.

At ViacomCBS, Franco will be “eligible to receive her 2021 equity award” with a grant date of Nov. 30, the company said a securities filing. She is also “entitled to receive severance compensation in accordance with a termination without ‘cause’ or resignation for ‘good reason’ under the terms” of her previous employment agreements, according to the filing.

A ViacomCBS spokesman declined to discuss Franco’s pending departure. Her exit in December marks a year since CBS and Viacom reunited following an $11.7 billion deal. At least a half-dozen law firms advised on the transaction involving properties controlled by the Redstone family’s National Amusements Inc.

Post-merger layoffs have resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs at ViacomCBS, according to Bloomberg News, which reported in August that the company was one of many in the media and entertainment industry to cut workers in 2020. The reductions in force have been attributed to falling advertising revenues and movie theaters shuttered as a result of Covid-19.

Christa D’Alimonte, who took over in 2017 as general counsel of legacy Viacom and now serves as legal chief for the combined ViacomCBS, didn’t respond to a request for comment about Franco leaving the company or her replacement at CBS.

ViacomCBS disclosed earlier this year that five in-house lawyers had collectively received roughly $20 million in total compensation during 2019. Franco, who last year succeeded Lawrence Tu as general counsel of CBS, had a pay package valued at more than $5.7 million.

An employment agreement between Franco and ViacomCBS from last year called for her to receive $1 million in annual base salary, a target bonus equivalent to that sum, and additional stock grants. Franco currently owns nearly $1.1 million in ViacomCBS stock, per Bloomberg data.

In April, ViacomCBS completed its $275 million purchase of a 49% stake in Los Angeles-based film studio Miramax LLC. In June, Miramax general counsel and chief operating officer Robert Osher announced that he would leave both roles following that acquisition. Miramax hired Osher in 2018.

Emily Stubbs, a former in-house lawyer at Viacom and ViacomCBS, left the company earlier this year and recently became global head of litigation for Beijing-based BtyeDance Ltd. and its popular social media subsidiary TikTok Inc.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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