Essence, Richelieu Dennis Did Not Engage in ‘Toxic Workplace Behavior, Probe Finds

Investigation by Two Independent Law Firms Dismiss allegations against Richelieu Dennis and iconic Black magazine

New York – A probe by two law firms has dismissed allegations obtained in an essay by Black Female Anonymous suggesting that Essence and its owner, Richelieu Dennis engaged in behavior that contributed to a toxic workplace.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius conducted a review of the workplace issues, including sexual harassment raised in the anonymous post against Mr. Dennis,

the owner and chairman of Essence Ventures, the parent company of the magazine and Essence Communications.

The anonymous essay published cited an “abusive work culture” in which bullying and sexual harassment were common.

The essay, titled “The Truth About Essence,” was published on the digital platform Medium under the byline Black Female Anonymous, which has identified itself as a group of former and current Essence employees. The essay was part of an online campaign that includes Twitter and Instagram accounts and a petition, which has collected more than 2,000 signatures.

Dennis, a Liberian-born businessman acquired the magazine in 2018.

Following the allegations, Mr. Dennis, in an effort to ensure total transparency and the confidence of employees and the community, asked the organization to initiate a thorough and independent workplace review by the two recognized law firms beginning. “I will always welcome truth and look forward to addressing any workplace issues that may be identified as a result that may be identified as a result of the review,” Mr. Dennis said in July.

The Essence owner then named Caroline Wanga as the new Chief Growth Officer and interim CEO, tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the process as well as providing the business with the focus it needed during the controversy.

Contrary to what had earlier been reported, Dennis clarified in July that he never resigned his position as CEO. “I did not step down/resign as CEO of ESSENCE because I never served as its CEO, interim or otherwise. Rather, I operated as an owner to keep the business functioning after the departure of the long-time CEO in March during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic(which caused the CEO search we’d launched in March to be paused.”

Dennis dismissed the allegations from the start, insisting in a statement in July that when he acquired the magazine two years ago after more than a decade of being owned by Time Inc., he was fully aware that it would require a major cultural and business overhaul and significant investment to make sure that the publication which has been a beacon of Black culture in America could survive and flourish – and we are on our way. “We did not acquire ESSENCE because it was the best financial decision, but because it was the best cultural one”, the entrepreneur said in an Instagram Post this week, addressing the controversy stemming from allegations that he fostered a culture of sexual harassment and poisonous environment at the magazine.”

Mr. Dennis says ESSENCE has been the Place where Black women and communities have consistently been uplifted, celebrated, and empowered, and that’s always something worth fighting for, investing in, and building up. Thus, he would never tolerate or harbor such conditions as have been alleged. Dennis said: “I wanted to clarify that an anonymous blog post last week included a number of allegations against ESSENCE that we refute. This includes an accusation that I have engaged in sexual harassment- I have not.”