When US Red Cross helped an exec join Save the Children despite sexual harassment claims
By Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin
When Save the Children hired Gerald Anderson in 2013, the global charity believed it was hiring a veteran humanitarian executive with a sterling resume. Anderson had spent more than 15 years working around the world for the American Red Cross, rising through the ranks to lead the group’s massive relief effort after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After that, the Red Cross made him head of its half-billion-dollar response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Perhaps most crucially, the Red Cross gave him “very positive references,” including from a senior official, Save the Children said.
But the Red Cross didn’t tell its counterparts at Save the Children an important fact about Anderson’s work history: He had just been forced to resign from his job after the charity concluded he sexually harassed at least one subordinate.
The Red Cross’ handling of the Anderson case, coming to light as the nation wrestles more broadly with its treatment of sexual misconduct allegations, sheds light on the unsettling way many employers have dealt with such allegations against high-ranking male executives. Even when employers take action, their investigations are often cursory, and accusers can be left feeling abandoned when the executives are quietly dismissed and land plum new jobs. While many employers make a practice of giving neutral recommendations, or simply dates of service, the Red Cross gave Anderson a good review, with no hint of concern.
At the Red Cross, two young women came forward in September 2012 to accuse Anderson. One, 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.
The second woman, Eliza Paul, a program assistant who met him at an after-work happy hour, lodged even more serious allegations against Anderson. 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.
Anderson’s lawyer declined to answer specific questions but said in a statement: “Mr. Anderson has not engaged in any sexual misconduct.”
The Red Cross launched an internal investigation of the women’s allegations in 2012, but several staffers interviewed told ProPublica that officials seemed more concerned with protecting the institution than getting to the truth. Investigators did not interview multiple people who had been referred as witnesses. They asked few follow-up questions. They did not seek copies of Paul’s medical exam.
Anderson’s accusers were dismayed when a top Red Cross official praised Anderson in an October 2012 email announcing his departure. David Meltzer, then senior vice president for international services, wrote that he regretted to announce Anderson had “decided to make a change.” Meltzer said he was “grateful” to Anderson for his “leadership,” lauded him for “two decades of dedication and hard work in furthering the international mission of ARC,” and wished him well in his “future endeavors.” Meltzer and Anderson are personal friends, according to five people.
A few days later, at a staff meeting, Meltzer, who is now the Red Cross’ general counsel, went further. He said he was upset Anderson was leaving and that if it were up to him, Anderson would continue working at the Red Cross, according to three attendees. “It was flabbergasting. If you are a woman sitting in this room, and you have ever been harassed by Jerry Anderson, you’ve just heard from the VP that he does not believe you or support you,” said Amy Gaver, then an official at the Red Cross, who attended the meeting and knew about the allegations.
The Red Cross said in a statement this week that its investigation was a “complete and thorough review of all allegations reported and we found that Mr. Anderson’s actions were in direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles. We informed Mr. Anderson that he needed to leave the Red Cross, and he resigned.”
But the charity conceded that the “laudatory language used in association with Mr. Anderson’s departure was inappropriate and regrettable, given the circumstances.” The Red Cross said it recently learned “that a verbal reference given to Save the Children may also have contained similar language. As a result, we are taking appropriate disciplinary action.” The Red Cross didn’t respond to questions about who was disciplined or how.
The Red Cross said it had apologized to Save the Children. “In the future, we are committed to greater due diligence with regard to these types of communications,” the charity wrote in the statement.
Connecticut-based Save the Children said it learned of the circumstances surrounding Anderson’s departure from the Red Cross only last week when contacted by ProPublica. The group said in a statement it has placed Anderson on administrative leave while it looks into the situation. It added there have been no allegations of misconduct against Anderson during his time at Save the Children.
Moved by the stories of sexual misconduct dominating the news late last year, Paul reached out to ProPublica. In an interview in the living room of her small house outside downtown Asheville, North Carolina, Paul unflinchingly told her story over the course of three hours. The Red Cross’ handling of her case, she said, had left her disillusioned. “Their mission was to help the most vulnerable,” she said. “The whole experience felt like they were so busy covering their asses they didn’t have any concern about me.”
In 2009, Camille Herland, then 23, moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating from Dartmouth College and joined the Red Cross as Anderson’s assistant. Anderson, then 44 and head of the tsunami program, was a veteran globe-trotting Red Crosser, single and known to be approachable by younger staff.
Herland says he tested the bounds of their relationship from the start — asking to meet at his apartment and complaining about his dating life.
The situation escalated in August 2010 when several Red Cross employees, including Herland and Anderson, attended a colleague’s wedding one weekend in New York City. Herland had just accepted a longed-for new position in a different part of the Red Cross’ international department, but at the time of the wedding she was still Anderson’s subordinate.
“He had been drinking. At some point during the dancing, he came and forcibly cut into the dance and backed me into a corner, and told me he had feelings for me. He took credit for having gotten me this new job, and said it was so we could be together,” Herland recalled to ProPublica recently. “He was very insistent that I needed to go to his hotel room with him so we could talk about our relationship in private.”
Herland declined in “no uncertain terms.” He gave her his hotel room number. Then he started to cry, she said. Herland was shaken.
The next morning he started to send text messages. He told her she was breaking his heart. He begged her to “give their relationship a chance.”
When the workweek began again, Anderson was not in the office. As Herland listened to her coworkers wonder where Anderson was, she was receiving a stream of texts and emails from him to both her work and personal accounts. He demanded to know if she had slept with other people at the wedding. “The end goal was always that I come to his apartment so we could talk about it,” she said.
She repeatedly told Anderson she wasn’t interested. She said she later deleted the messages because they were upsetting and, according to a contemporaneous email reviewed by ProPublica, Anderson asked her to.
Herland didn’t report Anderson to Red Cross management because she feared she would lose her job. “I was trying to live in D.C. with no savings account and student loans and I was getting these emails on my work account from my boss who was suggesting I was a slut and asking all these inappropriate questions.”
Eventually the emails stopped. But a year later, she received a surprise package to her home, saying she had received a fully paid membership to the Smithsonian. She called to ask where it had come from. The museum told her Gerald Anderson.
“That was very upsetting to me because I didn’t remember having given him my address,” she said. She tried to return the envelope to him. He became emotional and refused to take it back. “I said ‘I can’t have you buying me expensive gifts,’ and he said he thought this was an activity we could do together.”
She continued to talk with him a little bit after that. She asked him to provide a letter of recommendation for graduate school because he had been her highest-ranking boss. She wrote it herself and he signed.
Then her friend and Red Cross colleague Eliza Paul told her a story about an incident involving an unnamed “bad guy” at the charity. Herland guessed the identity of the man involved. Paul, surprised, confirmed it: Jerry Anderson.
Eliza Paul had moved to Washington in 2008 after studying international affairs at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. At 23, she was hired for a temporary position at the Red Cross as part of the surge after the Haiti earthquake, and was eventually promoted to a permanent program assistant role at the charity’s headquarters.
Paul had seen Anderson around the office but the two had never formally met. That changed on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. That day after work, a few dozen Red Cross staffers went to happy hour at the Black Rooster Pub, an unpretentious place nearby. Paul started talking with Anderson as the group dwindled down. She was drinking whiskey and remembers him laughing at her jokes and thinking, “That’s so cool — maybe this is a good thing for my career.”
Paul recalls being tipsy and planning to take a cab home. She went to the bathroom and checked her phone; it was 8:30 p.m.
The next thing Paul remembers is waking up early in the morning, naked, in an unfamiliar bed. Anderson, she says, was on top of her.
“I saw he didn’t have a condom, and all I could think to say was, ‘No, you don’t have a condom.’ He stopped and he laughed and he said, ‘It didn’t bother you last night,’” Paul said.
Paul asked if they had had sex. “He said, ‘Yeah, you were really into it. It was all your idea. We left the bar and you pushed me into a cab and said, ‘I’m coming home with you.’”
Feeling fuzzy, Paul stumbled out of bed, bumping into what she remembers as a coffee table. She put her clothes on. Anderson drove her home to Washington from what turned out to be northern Virginia.
“I was in total shock so I just believed him,” Paul said.
She took a shower and got dressed. “I was just on autopilot,” she said. “I went to work and was totally numb.”
That morning at the office, she took a break and went to the pharmacy around the corner and got the morning-after pill. She told her friend and coworker Alicia Fairfield what had happened. Fairfield confirmed the account to ProPublica.
Paul says she got an email on her work account from Anderson that day saying he had a great time and couldn’t wait to do it again. “I was horrified. I [said], ‘Last night was a huge mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk about this again.’”
The next day, Saturday, Paul spoke on the phone to her mother, who recommended she call the local rape crisis center. They directed her to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, near where Paul lived in Mount Pleasant. Paul and a former roommate, who confirmed the account to ProPublica, went to the hospital together. Both said Paul had no history of blacking out from drinking.
The medical records of Paul’s exam, which an independent expert reviewed at ProPublica’s request, are consistent with her account. The exam indicates there was sex, but rape kits cannot prove whether there was consent. According to the records, Paul told the nurse, “I never found this guy attractive, I never flirted with him or considered engaging physically with him, and then the next thing I remember it was early morning, I was in bed.”
Paul suspected she had been drugged. But when she told the hospital she did not want to report the episode to the police, they told her that only the police would test for date-rape drugs. So Paul still doesn’t know for sure what explains her roughly 10-hour memory gap. The doctor did prescribe a 30-day course of drugs for HIV prevention. The side effects, including nausea and temporary vision blackouts, were “brutal,” Paul said.
Paul decided not to report anything to her bosses at the Red Cross. “I just got this permanent job. I’m going to have this great career,” she recalled thinking. “I was positive that if I said anything the repercussions for me would be very great and for him it was non-existent.” She worried she wouldn’t be believed and regretted sending Anderson an email she thought could be used against her.
Paul and Anderson had little further interaction until several weeks later, in late January or early February of 2011 when she wrote a letter to him and left it on his desk. She no longer has a copy of the letter but recalls it saying something to the effect of, “What happened was absolutely not consensual. I suspect you drugged me. My only hope is that you’ll read this and understand what you’ve taken from me and choose not to do it again to someone else.”
She never got a response. She tried to avoid Anderson at work. She signed up for a martial arts self-defense class in Washington and sought therapy.
Beyond saying that Anderson has not engaged in sexual misconduct, Anderson’s attorney declined multiple requests to answer detailed questions about Herland’s and Paul’s allegations.
About 18 months later, the leadership of the Red Cross received reports of the allegations against Anderson. Paul, who had recently left the charity to go to graduate school at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, called another young female staffer considering taking a job under Anderson and told her what had happened. The staffer told a boss, and Paul and Herland decided to speak with investigators. As Herland put it in a September 22nd 2012, email to Red Cross management, they were concerned “that his behavior follows a dangerous pattern.”
The matter ended up in the charity’s Office of General Counsel. Top officials brought in Jeffrey Larroca, an attorney at the firm Eckert Seamans who regularly represents the Red Cross when it is sued in employment cases.
Over the course of several weeks, Larroca interviewed Paul, Herland and at least two others. Four people familiar with the investigation told ProPublica they regarded the inquiry as shallow. Larroca did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“I was surprised that the investigation didn’t go further — they didn’t dig deeper,” said Fairfield, Paul’s then-coworker. When Fairfield was interviewed, “They didn’t ask me about any experiences I’d had with Jerry Anderson,” she said.
“It was very clear that his objective when conducting those interviews was about protecting the interests of the Red Cross,” said Herland. “It was clear he was trying to poke holes in the story.”
In Paul’s case, the investigators did not seek to get the records from the rape kit, didn’t contact her friend who accompanied her to the hospital, and didn’t reach out to a Red Cross employee who she had told about what happened.
Another Red Cross employee who did participate was told by an in-house attorney that the charity was not keeping records associated with the investigation, according to a September 2012 email obtained by ProPublica. “They are not making any records, not using email, only discussing in person w/ pen and paper and then destroying those notes after every discussion,” the email said.
In a statement, the Red Cross denied this. “Records were maintained for this investigation, but they remain confidential to protect the privacy of the parties involved,” the charity said.
Standing by its investigation, the charity said: “The American Red Cross has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and has policies in place to enforce that, as evidenced by the corrective actions we took resulting in the resignation of Jerry Anderson more than 5 years ago.”
Several experts on workplace harassment said that investigations by employers are often beset by conflicts of interest.
“Having a slipshod investigation is very common,” said James M. Cooney, a professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations who teaches employment law. “It’s critical that the investigator be as impartial as possible. It would be problematic for an employer to use its regular defense attorney because of the potential conflict.”
When the investigation was over, Herland got an Oct. 23, 2012, email from an in-house Red Cross attorney saying, “We found merit to your complaint.” When Paul didn’t hear anything, she called the same attorney, Mary Elizabeth Cisneros, who told Paul, “Your statement was helpful,” according to contemporaneous emails.
Meltzer, who was senior vice president for international services, then sent out the email announcing Anderson’s departure and praising him.
When Herland saw the email praising Anderson, she said, “It made me physically sick to read. I was incredibly angry. It was a clear slap in the face to those of us who put ourselves out there.”
A few days after the email, Meltzer convened the staff meeting in which he also praised Anderson and said he wished Anderson were staying.
Eight days after Meltzer sent the email praising Anderson, the Red Cross announced Meltzer was being promoted to general counsel of the entire organization. In that position, which he still holds, he oversees the charity’s handling of misconduct cases and is directly responsible for the Red Cross’ Office of Investigations, Compliance & Ethics. In a statement, the Red Cross said Meltzer’s promotion had long been in the works and was unrelated to his handling of the Anderson case.
In February 2013, Anderson was hired as a senior director for humanitarian response at Save the Children, where his direct boss was Robert Laprade.
Laprade himself had previously worked for years at the Red Cross, where he worked closely with Anderson on the relief effort after the Indian Ocean tsunami. According to several current and former staffers, the two are personal friends. Laprade told ProPublica in a statement that he only learned last week about why Anderson left the Red Cross in 2012. “I never had any reason to think there were problems as I worked with him for five years and my observation was that he was professional,” Laprade said.
Save the Children has a reputation in the industry for in-depth background checks. The group said its recruiter conducted interviews and background checks on Anderson, as well as receiving the positive reference from the Red Cross.
Save the Children said there have been no allegations of misconduct about Anderson during his time there. Anderson has since been promoted and is now associate vice president of humanitarian response.
For many years, the aid industry has been beset by scandals in which workers committed sexual abuse against vulnerable people in war and disaster zones. But it wasn’t until recently that the industry began to look inward at the problem of harassment and violence by staffers against other staffers.
Reuters reported in November that aid groups, including Save the Children International, had fired dozens of staffers for harassment in the past year. Save the Children US told ProPublica it has received three reports in the past year of sexual harassment.
A 2017 report on harassment by a task force that includes the international Red Cross federation found that “good practices are not widespread” and there “is little capacity to identify and address repeat offenders” or share information between organizations.
In the U.S., organizations are generally not legally required to reveal misconduct when a prospective employer calls for a reference, according to Janice Bellace, a professor of business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Many have a policy of not disclosing why an employee left, partly because of a fear of lawsuits. “There are real cases where a person sues for defamation,” she said.
Aid industry observers say the failure to share information between organizations can perpetuate problems involving sexual misconduct.
Christine Williamson, an expert who consults with aid organizations on human resources issues, said, “I have seen people move around who have gone through the disciplinary process, come out with a confidentiality agreement, and move on to another organization without really paying the price.”
- ProPublica is an independent, not-for-profit, investigative US online news and features magazine.
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