New York–The last few weeks have continually brought news of men in positions of power being fired or resigning in the wake of sexual harassment or assault claims, the latest of which have included CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose and popular Today show anchor Matt Lauer.
Now, the news includes a prominent figure who also has a small presence in the jewelry industry.
Russell Simmons, music and TV producer, founder of Def Jam Recordings and co-founder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund, has announced that he is stepping down from his businesses after claims of sexual assault from two women.
A Nov. 19 article published in the Los Angeles Times detailed an incident between the music mogul and model Keri Claussen Khalighi, in which she accused Simmons of sexual assault and harassment in 1991.
Simmons denied the incident in a letter published in The Hollywood Reporter just days later and also posted a statement on his website.
His denial prompted award-winning screenwriter Jenny Lumet (“The Mummy,” “Rachel Getting Married”) to pen a column published in The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, in which she detailed an encounter with him at the age of 24 and accused him of sexual assault.
Just hours after her column was posted, Simmons released a statement via his Instagram account, announcing that he would step back from his leadership roles at the companies he has founded in order to, as he said, “commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
Simmons said in his statement: “I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real.”
He added that, “While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely apologize.”
He said those who have been hurt or shamed deserve to be heard. “As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded.”
HBO and JC Penney have also announced since that they are cutting ties with the producer.
Simmons is best known as the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, one of the major hip-hop labels, with Rick Rubin. He eventually bought out Rubin’s share, and then in 1999 he sold his stake in the label for a reported $100 million.
Since then, he’s been producing, writing and guest starring on reality series “Run’s House,” and has founded a number of other companies under his umbrella company Rush Communications Inc., which includes more than 10 businesses and three non-profits.
Simmons co-founded the Diamond Empowerment Fund in 2007, along with leaders in the diamond and jewelry industry, to support initiatives that develop and empower people in diamond communities worldwide.
He also started Simmons Jewelry Co., which produced stainless steel jewelry mostly geared toward men and was sold at a number of large chain stores as well as some independent jewelers. The company no longer appears to be active.
When contacted by National Jeweler via email for a comment on the news or his future involvement with DEF, Executive Director and Vice President Nancy Orem Lyman said only that Russell Simmons has not been a voting member of the DEF board of directors “for many years.”
She also said: “Our organization continues to be run by prominent leaders spanning the industry, all of whom are dedicated to our mission and message. This will not change.”