Red Cross Endorsed Top Official Despite Sexual Misconduct Claims, ProPublica Reports

Jan 25, 2018
Originally published on February 1, 2018 5:12 pm

Update on Feb. 1: The American Red Cross' general counsel and chief international officer, David Meltzer, has resigned since the publication of this story. In Meltzer's letter of resignation on Jan. 31, he said, "the language I used at that time in association with Mr. Anderson's departure was inappropriate." The Red Cross could not be reached for comment on Meltzer's resignation, but in a Jan. 25 statement, the charity acknowledged that its "subsequent actions fell short" after Anderson's resignation. The organization says it has "zero tolerance for sexual harassment."

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.


Interview Highlights

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have news this morning about the American Red Cross. The charity organization acknowledges it forced out a senior executive amid allegations of sexual harassment and worse in 2012. The dismissed executive was then hired by Save the Children after a favorable recommendation from the Red Cross. The Red Cross has confirmed all of this and apologized for that job recommendation in response to an investigation by two ProPublica reporters, one of whom is Justin Elliott and is on the line.

Good morning.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who's the official, and what did he allegedly do?

ELLIOTT: So the official's name is Jerry Anderson, and he was a veteran Red Cross staffer. He had run two very large programs, the relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami in the early 2000s, and then later the relief effort after the Haiti earthquake. Two young women who had worked at the Red Cross when they were in their early 20s later came forward to the management of the organization with allegations of in one case sexual harassment.

Another young staffer at the Red Cross attended a happy hour with him in Washington and then the next morning woke up in his apartment. She couldn't remember what happened, has a memory gap, went to the hospital and got a rape kit done. Jerry Anderson denies any sexual misconduct, but the Red Cross did bring in one of their lawyers to do an investigation, and they concluded that he had violated their policies and forced him out.

INSKEEP: Before we get to that, were the police ever brought in as the woman spread word of what she thought had happened?

ELLIOTT: She decided she didn't want to report it to police. And actually in both cases, the women initially didn't report what had happened, even to Red Cross management. They were very young, you know, in their first jobs out of college, and both feared that it would hurt their careers. About a year and a half later, the allegations did make their way to management, and that's when the investigation began.

INSKEEP: And we should mention these accusers are now giving their names. They're named in your story, Eliza Paul and Camille Herland. And you said that the Red Cross did push out the executive back in 2012. What makes this story different in your mind from so many other stories we've heard about in recent months?

ELLIOTT: 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, now is the general counsel of the organization, sent an email announcing Jerry Anderson's departure in which he praised him, said that Anderson himself was choosing to leave, 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 that they were never told that this person had just been fired after an investigation found that he committed a serious misconduct.

INSKEEP: Were they just not told, or did they actually get a glowing reference about this gentleman?

ELLIOTT: Save the Children has told us that the Red Cross gave only positive references. So we don't know sort of all the details there, but the Red Cross has acknowledged that laudatory reference was given, and they have said that they are now taking unspecified disciplinary action. They say that shouldn't have happened.

INSKEEP: Are employers legally required when a former employee applies somewhere else to disclose everything that's in the personnel file?

ELLIOTT: 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 sort of name and dates of employment. But we were also told by people that even if that's the policy, there are often sort of informal networks in which you do get more information about somebody you're considering hiring. The humanitarian industry sort of 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've committed serious misconduct and whether it should be done better and whether how it's been done in the past is actually working.

INSKEEP: Justin Elliott of ProPublica, who reported this story with Ariana Tobin. Thanks very much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Anderson responded to ProPublica through his attorney. He denies any sexual misconduct. You can read ProPublica's full report at propublica.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.