Silicon Valley Community Foundation Puts Carson On Leave

Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., president, CEO and board member of the $13.5 billion Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), has been put on paid administrative leave as an investigation into the handling of sexual harassment and hostile workplace complaints continues. SVCF is the largest community foundation in the United States.

Reached on his cellphone, Carson declined comment. Sources within the organization and nonprofit community said it is unlikely he will return to the post.

The board appointed Greg Avis as interim chief executive officer. A founding board member and prior chair of SVCF, Avis is managing partner of Bangtail Partners, a private investment firm, and a co-founder and former managing director of Summit Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm. Carson will not be involved with any board decisions, according to the announcement.

SVCF board members Wade W. Loo, David P. Lopez, and Rebecca Guerra will serve as special advisors to Avis to provide day-to-day leadership support and counsel, according to an announcement released by the board.

Loo will focus on the day-to-day management of the ongoing investigation, and he will oversee communications to address concerns and input from stakeholders and from the community at large. Lopez will focus on the continued work of philanthropic investments and community impact projects. Guerra will be involved with human resources issues.

The board voted to place Carson, who according to the organization’s federal Form 990 is paid $892,689 annually, on paid administrative leave until further notice while an investigation is led by independent counsel, attorneys Boies Schiller Flexner. David Boies, who was lead counsel for former Vice President Al Gore in connection with litigation relating to the 2000 election Florida vote count, is chairman of the firm.

The lawyers are setting up reporting systems including an internal anonymous reporting tool and the firm will expand the reach of the initial investigation undertaken by Thompson Hine LLP.

Last week, Mari Ellen Loijens who headed up branding and business development for SVCF, resigned after reports alleging bullying and remarks viewed as sexually inappropriate. Sarah Lorraine Goodman, told the Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., that she worked there for nine months and that complaints to human resources were not addressed.

She was quoted in the Mercury News as having said: “It was such a brutal experience working there. A big part of that culture is Emmett. It was understood that Mari Ellen was untouchable. Emmett covered for her. He used to call her his bulldog. She was the one he’d unleash on people, and he just thought she was the greatest thing ever.”

Via a statement released on April 17, Carson said: “Recently, there have been allegations by former employees of sexual harassment by a senior staff member at our workplace. We do not tolerate inappropriate conduct of any kind at SVCF, and we investigate all claims of misconduct. Immediately after learning of these recent allegations, we retained the services of Thompson Hine LLP to conduct a full investigation into the claims. At the conclusion of that investigation, we will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of SVCF.”

The organization two days later announced that Loijens had resigned but that the investigation would continue. The board subsequently brought in Boies Schiller Flexner.

In 2006, Carson headed up what at the time was one of the largest mergers in the charitable sector, the Peninsula Community Foundation with the Community Foundation Silicon Valley. Established in 1954, Community Foundation Silicon Valley managed more than 650 charitable funds with total assets of $919 million. Peninsula Community Foundation, established in 1964, managed assets of $612 million, including more than 750 charitable funds. The merger created one of the top community foundations in the nation, with more than $1.5 billion in assets under management and 1,400 philanthropic funds.

Before SVCF, Carson was CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation. Prior to that, he was the first leader of the Ford Foundation’s U.S. and global grant-making program on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

Carson is the recipient of honorary degrees from Indiana University, Morehouse College, Becker College and The National Hispanic University. He received both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in public and international affairs from Princeton University and his bachelor’s degree in economics, Phi Beta Kappa, from Morehouse College.

He has been listed 17 among the charitable sector’s most influential executives in The NonProfit Times’ annual Power & Influence Top 50.