Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The Red Cross and the possibility of another workplace con

Red Cross CEO Mark W. Everson announced his resignation from the Red Cross on 11/27.

The resignation was not voluntary.  As reported in the media and by the Red Cross he was dismissed/resigned as a result of having a consensual sexual relationship with a “subordinate  employee.”  Of course, all Red Cross employees would be subordinate to the CEO.  The identity of the employee he had a relationship with was not revealed, and the employee will continue to be employed by the Red Cross.  Everson’s annual salary with the Red Cross was $500,000.  Everson had only been with the Red Cross for 2 months. Previous to this position he had been Commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service and was appointed to that position by President Bush.

I find this whole situation to be most disturbing.  Little or no information was released as to the specifics of the nature of the consensual relationship and how said relationship lead to the CEO’s termination.  Given he was dismissed for a consensual relationship, it must be that two persons voluntarily consented.  But only one was disciplined in the context of dismissal; the so-called subordinate employee not only was not disciplined, but remains in good stead in the same position she/he occupied prior to the CEO dismissal.  If it takes two to engage in illicit consensuality, then shouldn’t both parties be disciplined, if there is to be any discipline?  But, of course, as we know, many would argue that the subordinate employee’s ability to consent was impaired therefore such would lead to the differential Red Cross response.  However, if differential power precludes consent, the relationship was not consensual, and the CEO could be charged with sexual harassment, but a sexual harassment charge was not forthcoming..  In fact, sexual harassment was not mentioned by any of the parties to the case.

But this does not mean that others with an investment in the sexual harassment industry have not implied or outright stated that this case is the sort of case that sexual harassment training organizations find of interest.  For example, one such organization, ELT, has stated the following about this case.

“Exec level terminations like this typically involve very serious misconduct – fraud, theft, misappropriation.  But in this new climate of intense ethical scrutiny, office romances now fall into mix of unforgivable transgressions.  By loosing his job to his libido, Everson now joins the prestigious ranks of Paul Wolfowitz of the World Bank, and Harry Stonecipher of Boeing.”  

Wow!  Consenting sexual conduct is now in the same league with fraud, theft and misappropriation. It’s the same as stealing from the company  or stealing for the company.  But what was stolen in the present case?

The ELT presentation continues-

“The damage from this kind of scandal doesn’t just stop at the risk of litigation.  (Remember that “sexual favoritism” is a growing claim – meaning that coworkers who witness a consensual relationship between a supervisor and subordinate can make a case.)  The harm goes much deeper. 

Start with the hard costs of just replacing Everson – it’s not cheap to find a suitable executive to lead a high profile organization that’s under constant scrutiny.  Managing an exec level search twice in one year is a lot of money down the drain.  Then there’s the inevitable loss of employee confidence and productivity that follows this kind of an announcement – not to mention the potential for increased turnover. Employees start to jump ship when they think it might be sinking, and when they associate their employer with corruption and embarrassment. And we can’t forget the bad PR and loss of confidence by the community.  Just think of all the corporate sponsors and individual donations that have been compromised by a little consensual sex in the workplace.”

Well the Red Cross could have given their CEO a leave of absence, had him go thru some sort of special therapy and then hopefully he could have resumed his position.  But it was the Red Cross’s decision to go thru with the additional expenses.  And as for employees jumping ship because they associate their employer with corruption and embarrassment, where was the corruption?  And what was the embarrassment about?  That the company moved too fast, that they immediately removed the CEO without any substantive investigation, that they did not discipline the subordinate employee?  And as far as loss of the confidence of the community, can one believe that the community as a whole really cares about the consensual relationships within the Red Cross?  Such is other worldly thinking.  In fact, many members of the community lost their confidence in the Red Cross well before this CEO’s Red Cross employment, such was lost by the incompetent performance of the Red Cross during Hurricane Katrina. 

And then in the Elt posting, ELT gets down what for them is the nitty gritty-

“What happened at the Red Cross can happen in any organization. No one is immune. It’s why compliance and prevention efforts around workplace harassment are so pervasive and top of mind for employers.  Organizations know they can’t just stand by, awaiting their turn on the front page of the newspaper.  Incidents like these are inevitable. 

This is where sexual harassment training comes in.  While romancing a subordinate may seem like an obvious no-no, educating employees about workplace harassment (particularly fraternization policies) is still desperately needed.  This is especially true for senior execs.  The landscape has shifted in recent years. Conduct that was once “acceptable” or at least ignored at the Board level, is no longer okay – and is ripe fodder for the media.  When the rules shift, it’s up to the organization to make sure that everyone gets the message loud and clear, especially the top brass.  Executives may think they don’t need to be part of sexual harassment training efforts, but cases like Everson’s make it clear they do. (ELT Blog: Don’t Forget Your Senior Execs-They Need Compliance Training Too).”

And the dankprofessor continues, and its hysteria time since “no one is immune”; such is why pervasive efforts are needed to immunize companies from the disease of consensual sexual relationships that can infect the entire company.  And who can facilitate the immunization process? Sexual harassment training organizations, and, course, ELT should be given primary consideration.  Their whole posting functions as one big advertisement for their services.

But what ELT does not tell us in this posting is that the CEO is married with two children, that the CEO was involved in an adulterous relationship with a subordinate employee.  Now it could be that the CEO’s dismissal had nothing to do with a violation of a consensual policy, but occurred because of his adultery. It is harder to dismiss anyone publicly on the grounds of adultery; easier to go to violation of the company’s consensual dating policy. And then in the Dankprofessor’s opinion who was the CEO’s partner in adultery becomes of paramount importance.  Even within the Red Cross, internal politics can get pretty dirty and all kinds of manipulations and cover-ups can occur.  I do not know what is the truth.  I do feel that the Red Cross moved awfully fast on this case, too fast.  At this point there should be some healthy skepticism as to the facts surrounding the dismissal/resignation of Mark W. Everson.

But Elt  which is an acronym for Specialists in Ethics and Legal Compliance Training does not engage in any skepticism, they simply accept the public relations statement of the Red Cross as being truthful.  I wonder why the ethically sensitive, such as ELT, does not have any skepticism about the reasons for the Red Cross firing.  Do they advise companies to proceed as quickly as the Red Cross did in firing a CEO? Do they advise their trainees to always immediately accept the public relations statement of their company?

But ELT realizes that there is no quick fix for employees involved in these scenarios.  As they indicate-

“…remember that harassment training is not a one time event.  Laws change and issues evolve.  People come and go.  And when it comes to curbing bad behavior – especially the kind that comes from a heady mix of sex and power – folks need their memories jogged from time to time.  Guess that’s why the US Supreme Court, the EEOC and many state laws call for “periodic” sexual harassment training.  It’s legal speak for “keep reminding them.”

So this may be a part of the workplace con- organizations with vested interests in the sexual harassment industry hype how consensual sexual relationships are now considered so horrendous that only through repeated training sessions can the dreaded consensual sexual relationship not rear its ugly head in the workplace.  And might this situation represent another workplace con in the framework of the Red Cross firing someone for adultery with an anonymous other and using the consensual relationship charge as an expedient way of getting rid of Everson?  Of course, the dankprofessor does not know just as persons subject to an effective con do not know they are being conned.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007


December 5, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, corporate dating bans, ethics, fraternization, sexual harassment, sexual politics

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