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.