Closing The Gap

Why Steve Wynn's resignation may be #MeToo's most significant milestone yet

Since The New York Times revealed in October a pattern of sexual abuse by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, high-profile men in industries from entertainment to media and technology have faced public accusations of sexual harassment. But financial titans and executives at public companies have largely managed to stay out of the #MeToo spotlight — until now.

Following an in-depth investigation by The Wall Street Journal, casino tycoon Steve Wynn became the latest powerful figure to be accused of sexual misconduct. On Tuesday, Wynn resigned from his position as the CEO and chairman of the company he founded, Wynn Resorts, saying that in the environment surrounding the investigation, he "cannot continue to be effective."

His resignation is significant for two key reasons: who Wynn is and who his accusers are.

Steve Wynn
Brent Lewin/Bloomberg | Getty Images
Steve Wynn

Wynn is the first CEO of a publicly traded company to resign in the current climate, and his resignation demonstrates that a powerful board and deep political ties cannot shield you from repercussions.

In many ways, Wynn is the epitome of power. The Wall Street Journal describes him as "a towering figure in Las Vegas and the wider gambling industry." He is the builder of the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore casinos in Las Vegas. He is close friends with President Donald Trump. And until very recently, he served as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee.

His resignation demonstrates that a powerful board and deep political ties cannot entirely shield you from the public repercussions of actions that could once be settled discreetly.

Wynn's accusers stand in stark contrast. They are not famous. They include a manicurist, a massage therapist and several cocktail waitresses.

Jorgen Nielsen, a former artistic director at one of the salons under Wynn's management, told The Wall Street Journal that female employees would hide when Wynn entered the salon. "Everybody was petrified," he said. When he reported Wynn's sexual advances to high-level company executives, "nobody was there to help."

The fact that these women are being heard and believed marks a significant shift for the #MeToo movement. Coming forward with abuse allegations is a deeply personal decision that carries enormous risk, no matter the identity of the accusers or the accused, and the women bringing allegations against Wynn lack the insulation that many of Weinstein's accusers possess.

And while this moment may be seen as an important victory for the movement, it also provides an opportunity to contemplate what constitutes a victory.

Wynn's accusers spent decades being ignored and harassed. It took an in-depth investigation from one of the most reputable news organizations in the world for others to take notice, and action. Wynn has denied the allegations, and his fortune remains largely intact.

He maintains that the accusations are simply "negative publicity" and posits that his ex-wife is orchestrating the accusations in order to gain leverage in their divorce settlement. And upon exiting his role, Fortune reports that he may collect a bonus upwards of $330 million.

The magnate still owns a 12 percent stake in Wynn Resorts. The company's share price dropped considerably in January when the Journal report was released, but it has since rebounded. Today, Wynn is worth $3.5 billion.

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook

Don't miss: