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Save the Children exec on leave after alleged sex harassment report

January 26, 2018 GMT

Fairfield-based Save the Children has placed a top executive on administrative leave after an investigative news organization outed him for sexual harassment and pointed fingers at the American Red Cross for withholding the allegations.

Save the Children on Thursday said executive Gerald Anderson has been suspended from work and that “outside advisors” had been hired to determine the next steps.

“Save the Children wants to be clear that there have been no reported allegations of misconduct against the individual during his more than five years of employment with Save the Children,” the agency said in a statement.

Although Save the Children did not disclose where Anderson worked, several entries on the web site LinkedIn said he was based in the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. Anderson is also listed on LinkedIn has having worked for the Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

ProPublica on Thursday reported that Anderson had been forced to resign by the Red Cross over allegations of sexual harassment — including allegations from one woman who suspected Anderson had drugged her — prior to being hired in 2013 by Save the Children.

The publication also reported the Red Cross did not tell Save the Children about the allegations against Anderson or the circumstances surrounding his departure when contacted about their former employee.

In fact, the Red Cross had issued laudatory statements about Anderson after he was forced to resign, said ProPublica, a non-profit national online news site dedicated to investigative journalism.

Christine Palm, communications and women’s policy analyst for the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said the Red Cross should have told Save the Children about issues regarding Anderson.

“Until institutions hold themselves accountable for their employees’ actions, sexual harassment will continue unabated,” Palm said. “It’s not acceptable to fire someone for a history of harassing behavior and then foist him on someone else, as seems to be the case here.”

Palm likened the Save the Children situation to the sex scandal that enveloped the Catholic Church over abusive priests.

“Relocation does not make the problem go away — it just goes somewhere else,” Palm said.

Save the Children confirmed the Red Cross said nothing about Anderson’s past when the agency sought information about him and references.

“At the time of his hiring in February 2013, Save the Children’s recruiter conducted interviews and background checks, as well as reference calls with his previous employer, The American Red Cross,” Save the Children said.

“We received only positive information about this candidate from senior executives at The American Red Cross and our recruiter had no indication there had ever been problems or concerns with this staff member at that organization,” the agency said.

Disturbing allegations

The Red Cross said in a statement Thursday the agency is reviewing its policies, has already taken disciplinary action and apologized to Save the Children.

“While we took correct and immediate action at the time, we acknowledge that subsequent actions fell short,” the Red Cross said, referring to its failure to inform Save the Children about Anderson.

“The laudatory language used in association with Mr. Anderson’s departure was inappropriate and regrettable,” the Red Cross said. “Moreover, we recently learned that a verbal reference given to Save the Children may also have contained similar language.”

The Red Cross added “as a result, we are taking appropriate disciplinary action, and we have apologized to Save the Children.”

ProPublica said two women at the Red Cross came forward in September 2012 to accuse Anderson of inappropriate behavior.

One of those women, who worked under Anderson, cited disturbing emails he sent to her work account insisting they should have a romantic relationship. A Red Cross attorney subsequently acknowledged to her that investigators had found her account to have merit, ProPublica said.

The second woman, Eliza Paul, a program assistant who met Anderson at an after-work happy hour, lodged even more serious allegations.

She told Red Cross officials she had woken up naked in his bed without knowing how she had gotten there and had gone to the hospital for a rape kit exam, ProPublica reported.

ProPublic said Anderson’s lawyer declined to answer specific questions but said in a statement: “Mr. Anderson has not engaged in any sexual misconduct.”

Before being hired by Save the Children, Anderson had worked for the Red Cross for more than 15 years, leading the relief effort following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the half-billion-dollar response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, ProPublica reported.

’System break down’

The Red Cross said that after learning of the allegations against Anderson in September 2012, the agency hired outside counsel to conduct an investigation, which concluded Anderson’s “actions were in direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles.”

The Red Cross added “We informed Mr. Anderson that he needed to leave the Red Cross, and he resigned, effective November 2, 2012.”

The Red Cross also noted “we are re-evaluating our practices with these types of communications and, in the future, we are committed to greater due diligence. The American Red Cross has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and our hearts go out to anyone who has experienced it anywhere.”

Palm said corporations and agencies must take responsibility for their actions both during a sexual harassment investigation and after the case is resolved.

“As sexual harassment complaints continue to cascade, we need to begin to ask where, in the chain of command and responsibility, did the system break down?” Palm said.

“This gets at one of the main reasons women don’t come forward sooner — too often, there is still an institutional environment in which they aren’t believed, or are blamed, or are written off as troublemakers,” Palm said.