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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Former Caritas chief gets warning letter over harassment complaints

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Dr. Robert Haddad, the former Catholic hospital chief who was forced out amid complaints of sexual harassment, was warned about his behavior by the state licensing board today and told to get training about "maintaining appropriate interpersonal boundaries in the workplace."

The state Board of Registration in Medicine, which licenses Massachusetts doctors, issued a formal Letter of Warning to Haddad, but stopped short of disciplinary action. A warning letter is not part of a doctor's personal profile, which is posted on the board's public website, and is not reported to a national database that tracks discipline against physicians.

Haddad was forced to resign in May 2006 as head of Caritas Christi Health Care System, the hospital network owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, after four female employees complained that he sexually harassed them, including hugging them and kissing some on the mouth.

In its letter to Haddad, the board said, "We warn you not to conduct yourself in any way that would reflect poorly on the medical profession. ... We further warn you that you need to be aware of how your actions may be interpreted by the individuals that work for you and with you."

According to the letter, Haddad and his attorney, Ellen Janos of Boston, argued to board members that they could not discipline Haddad because his conduct occurred in his role as an administrator, not a doctor.

But the board, though it chose not to discipline Haddad, said it has the legal authority to do so. "Any conduct that you engage in that undermines the public's confidence in the medical profession could result in disciplinary action against your license," the board wrote.

Haddad, according to the letter, agreed to complete a training program.

A statement from Gina Addis, a spokeswoman for Janos's law firm, Mintz Levin, said that Haddad "has always taken seriously his responsibility of conducting himself in a professional and dignified manner, most especially during the difficult and challenging times in the successful turnaround of Caritas Christi."

Addis previously said that Haddad is not currently treating patients, and is "considering various options."

When asked why the board didn't discipline Haddad, spokesman Russell Aims said "the board had the advantage of hearing both sides of the story, and concluded based on the facts in front of it that this is the appropriate action."

The board has two female and five male members.

Mitchell Garabedian, attorney for a former Caritas employee who has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Haddad, said his client is unhappy that the board didn't discipline him.

"My client is disappointed that Dr. Haddad was given only a gentle slap on the wrist," Garabedian said. "My client doubts this gentle slap on the wrist will help Dr. Haddad understand that the head of a powerful institution should and can not objectify women."

The woman, Judith Ann LaBelle, was director of security and communications at Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen until March 2006. She filed a complaint last year with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that Haddad sexually harassed her. She also alleged age discrimination. Garabedian recently removed the complaint from the commission and filed a civil lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court. He said a mediation session is scheduled for today.

Haddad's departure from Caritas last year ended an embarrassing episode for Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and the archdiocese. Beginning in February 2006, four women filed complaints about Haddad with the Caritas Christi human resources department. Senior vice president Helen Drinan investigated and recommended that Haddad be dismissed.

Initially, O'Malley decided to reprimand, rather than fire, Haddad. But after a Globe story about the decision led to more than 10 new accusations and a public outcry, the cardinal and the hospital's board of governor's forced Haddad to resign. None of these other women has been publicly identified.

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