Inquiry finds no ‘actionable’ sexual bias at United Way

An investigation into harassment allegations by three former employees of United Way Worldwide found no evidence of “actionable harassment, discrimination, or retaliation,” although the report urged the organization to review and improve its policies regarding such complaints, according to a statement issued by the nonprofit.

Three female former employees filed complaints over the past two years with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the organization retaliated against them for speaking up about sexual misconduct.

After the allegations were raised internally, two of the women were fired, and United Way Worldwide’s CEO, Brian Gallagher, unsuccessfully sought to terminate the third, according to HuffPost. Other former employees also complained anonymously in a letter in December to the United Way’s board about the organization’s work environment, according to HuffPost.

In response to the allegations and the EEOC complaints, United Way Worldwide trustees hired the Proskauer Rose law firm to conduct an independent investigation. The investigation found that the nonprofit followed appropriate procedures in handling the allegations raised by the three women who filed the EEOC complaints and that employment decisions affecting the women were “based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory, and nonretaliatory reasons.”

The information about the internal investigation was released in a letter by Juliette Tuakli, chairwoman of the board of United Way Worldwide, and Neeraj Mehta, chairman of the board of United Way U.S.A.

The investigation urged the board to review “workplace culture and morale” and called for improvements in “procedures regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and the reporting and investigation of such matters.”

All current employees of United Way Worldwide were encouraged to contact the law firm during the investigation, and Proskauer Rose conducted interviews with 23 employees, the letter from the trustees’ states.

The letter states that United Way recognizes “the need to address the broader organizational and reputation issues” and says a new “culture task force” will take on that assignment. “The task force will examine several elements of UWW culture, including engagement, professional development, accountability, transparency, and mission and purpose,” the letter states.

Pamela Springs, a spokeswoman for United Way Worldwide, said a copy of the full investigative report will not be released publicly.

“The Board has shared the substance of its conclusions in the statement posted to Unitedway.org,” Springs said in an emailed statement.

Lisa Bowman, former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at United Way Worldwide, and one of the three women who filed an EEOC complaint, said in an emailed statement that “the nonprofit retaliated against me and derailed my career, simply because I followed their own personnel policy and reported sexual harassment toward me and my subordinates. For no legitimate reason, I was punished — not the perpetrator.”

Bowman said she was not contacted for the investigation and noted that the law firm was hired by United Way.

“This was not a thorough, fair, or reliable investigation — and only serves to protect bad actors, discourage women from coming forward, while attempting to absolve United Way’s leadership for their yearslong failure to address systemic problems,” she said.

Ana Avendaño, former vice president for labor engagement at United Way Worldwide and another one of the women who filed an EEOC complaint, said she was not contacted for the investigation, either. “I have information that would’ve helped in the investigation,” she said.

The third woman who filed an EEOC complaint said she had not been contacted either for the investigation. The woman said she did not want to be identified because she fears retaliation as she pursues her career elsewhere.

“I’m not at all surprised,” she said about the report. “It’s what I expected.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Dan Parks is a writer at the Chronicle. Email: dan.parks@philanthropy.com. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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