Caritas Christi president accused of improper conduct

BOSTON —At press time, the fate of Caritas Christi Health Care System president, Dr. Robert Haddad, was unclear after Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley called for an emergency meeting of the organization’s board of governors May 22. The meeting, to take place in the evening of May 24, will address “new complaints of misconduct” involving Haddad. This is the second meeting of the Caritas Christi board in less than a week that will deal with accusations of sexual harassment toward female employees by the Caritas Christi president.

The allegations against Haddad were first reported in the May 20 Boston Sunday Globe. After the story was published, new allegations against Haddad surfaced. According to a May 24 Globe story, more than 10 women have come forward with new allegations against Haddad.

According to an archdiocesan statement released to The Pilot May 22, the cardinal was first notified of the initial complaints in late April.

Cardinal O’Malley immediately began an independent investigation of two complaints of unwelcomed advances toward female employees by Haddad. The investigation concluded that Haddad had engaged in improper conduct that “violated both Caritas Christi’s sexual harassment policy and state and federal employment law.”

The investigation also concluded that “Dr. Haddad’s conduct while clearly improper was not of an exceptionally egregious nature,” the statement said.

The investigation led to a “stern” reprimand to Haddad, a directive to participate in sexual harassment sensitivity training and a warning that any retaliation toward the victims or “any new future credible complaints such as these would result in his immediate termination.”

The Caritas Christi board voted to accept the disciplinary plan unanimously — with one member abstaining, May 18.

Haddad, who is of Lebanese descent, has said a cultural misunderstanding was at issue.

“In my Lebanese culture, hugs and kisses among men and women are not only expected, but warmly given and received,” the 52-year-old executive said in his first public statement on the allegations, released May 22.

He said he was “stunned to learn that some of my actions may have been misinterpreted; at no time was I aware of making anyone uncomfortable.

“And although I have never acted inappropriately, I deeply regret causing anyone any discomfort.”

He said he has been an effective leader, and concluded the statement by saying he was “committed to continuing to lead Caritas through this challenging period.”

The Globe reported May 24 that Haddad and Caritas Christi were in conversations about his possible departure.

According to the archdiocesan statement, this was the first time that either the cardinal or the board had received any allegations regarding improper conduct by Haddad.

The human resource department at Caritas Christi had received both complaints, the first in early February and the second in early March. They claimed that Haddad had engaged in conduct “consisting of kissing or hugging.” In both instances, this conduct was alleged to have occurred on hospital property — in public and in private.

“Cardinal Seán took these allegations extremely seriously and sought to investigate and address the situation as expeditiously as possible, in a manner that was fair to all involved parties,” the statement said.

The cardinal hired Jean Musiker, an independent outside investigator and former general counsel of the MCAD (Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination) to investigate these complaints.

According to the statement, “Her assignment included the production of a comprehensive report detailing the findings of her thorough investigation including interviewing the women making the complaints, other relevant witnesses including two other women who reported similar experiences, and also Dr. Haddad, who as of that time had not previously been interviewed.”

After the investigation concluded that Haddad’s behavior was improper, the cardinal then sought the advice of Scott Moriearty, an outside legal counselor possessing expertise in the area of employment law, to evaluate the investigation and make an independent recommendation of appropriate disciplinary action.

Moriearty’s recommendation was for a set of corrective actions including both oral and written reprimands and warnings, with a clear statement as to the consequences of any future violations, as well as training.

According to the statement, the cardinal asked Steve Perlman, another employment law expert, “to review the work of Ms. Musiker and Mr.Moriearty and advise the cardinal and the board of governors.”

“Relying on the advice of Mr. Moriearty and Mr. Perlman, as well as the facts found by Ms. Musiker, the cardinal made a preliminary determination that the appropriate disciplinary plan consisted of a stern reprimand and warning to Dr. Haddad, a directive to participate in sexual harassment sensitivity training, and that Dr. Haddad should be informed that any retaliatory action or any future credible complaints such as these would result in his immediate termination,” the statement said.

Before making a final decision and submitting the matter to the board, the cardinal first received direct assurance from Haddad that such behavior would not occur again. Haddad also indicated to the cardinal that he did not intend to offend anyone by his actions.

“With the belief that Dr. Haddad was prepared to accept the full consequences of this disciplinary plan, the cardinal brought the matter to the Caritas Christi board of governors last Thursday, May 18, 2006,” the statement said.

Caritas board members did not respond to The Associate Press requests for comment on Haddad May 23, although one board member, Kevin C. Phelan, issued a statement May 22: “In my experience, Bob Haddad is an honorable person who has led the Caritas system through a significant financial turnaround.”

Mary Jean Falco, an intensive care nurse at St. Elizabeth Medical Center for 24 years, defended Haddad, saying he made an effort to get to know the staff and it was common for him to hug or kiss those he knew.

“It was innocent and harmless, and I feel that this campaign is an unconscionable attempt by bitter adversaries and disgruntled employees to undermine him in his attempt to restructure this hospital system,” Falco said.

Several other former and current colleagues of Haddad in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania contacted by the AP May 22 either did not respond or were unavailable.

A check by the AP of medical license records in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts turned up no incidents of hospital or medical board discipline against Haddad.

The decision to not fire Haddad at the May 18 board meeting has been harshly criticized by Helen Drinan, Caritas’ top human resources executive. She and others have compared the situation to the Archdiocese of Boston’s initial response to reports of sexual abuse of children by priests.

An advocate group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized the archdiocese’s handling of the allegations against Haddad.

“The powerful still receive preference, the powerless get promises,” said Ann Hagan Webb, SNAP’s New England co-coordinator.

The archdiocesan statement says that following the May 18 board meeting, “the cardinal asked Ms.Musiker to make direct outreach to the women who brought these complaints forward, to assure them that their complaints were taken extremely seriously by the cardinal and the board of governors, that their complaints were investigated thoroughly and that the sanctions imposed were in keeping with the recommendations of the outside labor experts.”

“She will also assure them that the cardinal and board of governors are extremely serious and sincere about hearing of any future action — either inappropriate behavior or retaliation. They are being instructed to report any such information directly to her,” the statement said.

Associated Press materials were used as part of this story