In a new report, ProPublica has revealed that the American Red Cross forced a senior official to resign amid sexual harassment and assault allegations but still gave him a positive review when asked by another aid organization interested in hiring him.
That man, Gerald Anderson, was hired in 2013 by Save The Children, after representatives there say they received glowing references. Anderson denies any sexual misconduct.
Anderson led the Red Cross response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. When talking with Save The Children, though, his former organization omitted an important part of Anderson’s career there: He had been forced out in 2012 because his actions were in “direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles,” according to a statement made by the Red Cross.
At that time, a young subordinate had reported to the Red Cross that Anderson had allegedly sexually harassed her repeatedly through email and text messages. Another young woman reported at the same time that Anderson had allegedly sexually assaulted her several years before. The Red Cross has not commented specifically on either accusation.
ProPublica reporters Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin uncovered these allegations about Anderson when the two women who came forward approached Elliott with their stories. Elliott has done other extensive reporting on the Red Cross, much of which he conducted in partnership with NPR.
The Red Cross said it has since apologized for recommending Anderson to Save The Children. But the interaction between the two aid organizations raises the question of what responsibility companies have in disclosing accusations of sexual misconduct, confirmed or otherwise.
Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep spoke with Elliott about his new report.
What makes this story different from so many other stories we’ve heard about in recent months?
We feel like we really got a window into how institutions have dealt with these cases. In this case, David Meltzer, who at the time was the head of the international division of the Red Cross and now is the general counsel of the organization, sent an email announcing Gerry Anderson’s departure in which he praised him, said that Anderson himself was choosing to leave, and thanked him for his leadership.
Meltzer also then gave a staff meeting in which he repeated those comments, which was very upsetting to some people in the audience.
And then the Red Cross gave positive references to Anderson very shortly thereafter when Save The Children was considering hiring him, and Save The Children says they were never told that this person had just been fired after an investigation found that he committed serious misconduct.
Were they just not told or did they actually get a glowing reference?
Save The Children has told us that the Red Cross gave only positive references, so we don’t know all the details there, but the Red Cross has acknowledged that a laudatory reference was given and they have said that they are now taking unspecified disciplinary action. They say that shouldn’t have happened.
Are employers legally required when a former employee applies somewhere else to disclose everything that’s in the personnel file?
Employers are generally not required to say much of anything about an employee who has left. We were told by experts in this area that a lot of large employers have adopted the policy of just giving name and dates of employment, but we were also told by people that even if that’s the policy, there are often informal networks in which you do get more information about somebody you’re considering hiring.
The humanitarian industry as a whole has actually been looking at these issues. There was a report recently issued by a task force in the industry identifying this question of information-sharing about people who have committed serious misconduct and whether it should be done better, and whether how it’s been done in the past is actually working.
NPR’s Meg Anderson, Steve Mullis and Ashley Westerman contributed to this story.