United Way Worldwide (UWW) followed appropriate policies and procedures in response to internal complaints from three employees who eventually filed the criticisms with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to an investigation into the matter released today.
“The investigation was completed in a thorough, thoughtful, and dutiful manner, while also recognizing the urgency of the situation at hand,” UWW Board of Trustees Chair Juliette Tuakli and United Way USA Board of Trustees Chair Neej Mehta said in a 654-word joint statement released today.
The statement read, in part: “First, and foremost, UWW’s handling and investigation of internal complaints made to UWW by the three employees who subsequently filed charges with the EEOC was appropriate and that UWW followed appropriate processes and procedures in its handling of the three subject complaints. The subsequent employment decisions made with respect to the three employees at issue were found to be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons.” There was no evidence found that UWW “engaged in actionable harassment, discrimination, or retaliation with respect to the three employees.”
UWW retained Proskauer Rose LLP in November 2020 to conduct the independent investigation into how management handled allegations and the extent to which policies were followed in addressing them. Proskauer’s investigation included a number of suggestions and recommendations relating to potential enhancements to strengthen policies, practices, and procedures, including those relating to management and other training and reporting and investigating complaints, such as a Culture Task Force.
One of the employees is former Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Bowman, who filed charges in March alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. She was fired in January, months after she made a formal complaint about the alleged behavior of a male colleague to human resources, according to an EEOC complaint.
Bowman said she nor the other employees involved with EEOC complaints were contacted by the law firm. “Clearly it was an investigation that was bought and paid for by United Way with the express intent of clearing them of wrongdoing,” she said in a telephone interview with The NonProfit Times Tuesday afternoon. “It was obvious that it was in their best interests to have this come out the way it did,” she said, alleging that affiliates were withholding dues pending the outcome of the investigation and corporate partners are re-evaluating their relationships with the organization. “They can legally say it was an independent investigation but in no way was it a fair investigation,” Bowman said.
Executives of UWW were not made available for interview.
In all, Proskauer conducted interviews with 23 current UWW employees and reviewed more than 2,500 pages of documents, consisting of policies and procedures, complaints submitted to UWW’s Ethics Hotline, personnel records, employee surveys, and various policy manuals, according to the statement.
As of Jan. 25, Proskauer received 20 responses to an anonymous and private email address that current employees were encouraged to contact to contribute to the investigation and provide relevant information.
UWW last week laid off an undisclosed number of employees and announced temporary salary reductions for senior staff, according to a report in The Huffington Post. The report also cited sources alleging that more than 200 of United Way’s 1,000-plus U.S. affiliates had stopped paying dues to the Alexandria, Va.-based home office.
Proskauer also noted that workplace culture and morale are areas that the boards should examine more deeply, and assessed policies and procedures regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and the reporting and investigation of such matters, finding areas that could be enhanced.
The investigation included a number of suggestions and recommendations relating to potential enhancements to strengthen policies, practices, and procedures, including those relating to management and other training and reporting and investigating complaints. The boards plan to review and incorporate recommendations as part of a broader action plan for ongoing improvement of governance and transparency.
A Culture Task Force would examine several elements of UWW culture, including engagement, professional development, accountability, transparency, and mission and purpose. The boards will lead an initiative to “re-create an authentic, empowered, and human-first culture,” the statement noted.
“We are confident that by holistically examining our current culture, we can develop a blueprint for better realizing inclusivity, collaboration, and mutual respect. The Task Force will reflect the full constitution of the United Way network, involving employees and partners at every level and from various geographies and roles across United Way’s network,” officials said via the statement.