LOS ANGELES • One of the Walt Disney Co's most important executives, Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, said he would take "a six-month sabbatical" after unspecified "missteps" that made some employees feel "disrespected or uncomfortable".
Mr Lasseter, 60, made the announcement in a lengthy e-mail sent on Tuesday to employees at Disney's animation division, which he leads as chief creative officer.
"I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape or form," he wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was viewed by The New York Times. "No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected."
Disney said in a statement: "We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John's candour and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical."
A spokesman declined to comment further.
Shortly after Mr Lasseter's announcement, The Hollywood Reporter published an article that cited "grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes" as recurring behaviour by Mr Lasseter.
The article also said Rashida Jones, the actress and writer, had left a Pixar assignment early after he made "an unwanted advance". Jones and her writing partner, Will McCormack, had been working on the screenplay for Toy Story 4.
I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
PIXAR CO-FOUNDER JOHN LASSETER, in an e-mail he wrote on Tuesday to employees at Disney's animation division.
In a statement to The New York Times, Jones and McCormack said their departure was tied to Pixar's general treatment of female and minority employees.
"We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences.
"There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films," they continued. "However, it is also a culture where women and people of colour do not have an equal creative voice."
Over the years, Pixar has been criticised for a lack of female directors. Pixar has made 19 feature films, and only one of them, Brave, has a credited female director. That woman, Ms Brenda Chapman, was fired halfway through production after she clashed with Mr Lasseter.
Mr Lasseter is taking a leave of absence as hundreds of women (and some men) have stepped forward with allegations of sexual harassment against men in Hollywood, the news media, politics, higher education and other industries.
Some men, including Mr Harvey Weinstein and Mr Charlie Rose, have been fired by their companies.
Because of his enormous creative input across the entertainment conglomerate, Mr Lasseter has been heralded as a latter-day Walt Disney. He departed one day before Disney was set to release Pixar's latest film, Coco, in North American theatres.
In addition to overseeing feature animation for Disney, he is a principal creative adviser to Walt Disney Imagineering, which designs theme park attractions.
While sometimes moody behind closed doors, Mr Lasseter has an exuberant public image. At events for Disney fans, he often bounds onto the stage wearing a Hawaiian shirt and uses a cannon to fire T-shirts into the cheering crowd.
Like many executives in Hollywood, he has long used hugs and kisses on the cheek instead of handshakes in business settings. Over the years, he has taken the practice to the extreme, giving lengthy hugs to both men and women wherever he goes.
In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a photo slideshow about his frequent hugging, saying he had embraced 48 people in one day.