The lawyer of the anonymous woman whose single accusation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” lead to veteran The Today Show anchor Matt Lauer‘s swift firing at the end of November by NBC News plead with those searching for his client’s identity to stop because she is “terrified.”
In an interview with Today‘s Stephanie Gosk that aired Friday, Ari Wilkenfeld explained that the Lauer whistleblower is living in a state of “constant fear that people are going to track her down and figure out who she is.”
“There’s a hunt underway to figure out who she is and I think that’s going to have a chilling effect on other women who are going to come forward and tell their stories,” Wilkenfeld said, adding that his client “feels badly for the many other women who are suspected of being her, who are also being hounded and harassed.”
“It was difficult for her [emotionally] like it is for all victims of sexual harassment,” he continued. “It’s scary. And that’s why many women want to have those meetings and they want to close the door and never be heard from again.”
Wilkenfeld went on to recap how his client came forward with her complaint, and what she asked of her employers at NBC.
“She showed his face, she gave her name, she told her story. And at the conclusion of the interview, she was asked, ‘What do you want?’ And she said, ‘I want you guys to do the right thing and also, I’d like you to maintain my confidentiality,’ ” he said.
But according to Wilkenfeld, NBC has not lived up to their promises. Though he didn’t offer specifics, he slammed the network for their behavior in the wake of the allegations.
“I can say that NBC has a duty to maintain confidentiality, that means to maintain secrecy over her name and to hold to themselves the details of her story. And they have not done a good job of doing that. They know exactly what they’ve done and they need to stop,” Wilkenfeld said.
An NBC News spokesperson denied Wilkenfeld’s claim, telling Today, “the network has protected the employee’s anonymity all along and will continue to do so.”
Little has been made public about Wilkenfeld’s client’s relationship with Lauer from NBC executives, other than the fact that the misconduct began during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In the end, Wilkenfeld said that he was proud of his client for coming forward with her claims.
“She’s been incredibly brave and she’s helped protect the other women who work at NBC,” he said. “She’s also shined a light on the different ways other women can come forward.”
He also shared his hopes for the ways this case and the many other sexual misconduct cases making headlines right now could shift the workplace. “I hope we have the ability to go beyond outrage and beyond takedown jobs to actually fundamentally altering the way our workplace culture works,” Wilkenfeld said. “I think men need to step forward. They need to start protecting women in the workplace when they see them being harassed.”
Lauer, 59, was fired less than 24 hours after Wilkenfeld’s client came forward, NBC News saying in a statement at the time that they had reason to believe “this may not have been an isolated incident.”
“Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender,” NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in the statement. “We are deeply saddened by this turn of events. But we will face it together as a news organization – and do it in as transparent a manner as we can.”
Since then, a former Today staffer named Addie Zinone (née Collins) has come forward with her own experience with Lauer — the first to do so publicly.
In a piece for Variety published Thursday, Zinone claimed she had a month-long sexual affair with Lauer that began in 2000, right as she was readying to leave NBC News as a production assistant. It began when Lauer began sending her flattering messages, and advanced into a sexual encounter. Though Zinone said their pairing was consensual, she explained she was 24 and “felt like a victim because of the power dynamic.”
Lauer’s representatives did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment about the Zinone, though they did tell NBC News Friday he had “no further comment.”