The Woman Who Forced the Caritas Shake-Up
Drinan Took on Church in Harassment Case

By Sally Jacobs
Boston Globe
May 27, 2006

Helen G. Drinan, Caritas Christi's human resources chief, spoke yesterday of Dr. Robert M. Haddad's resignation.
Photo by The Globe Staff/Pat Greenhouse

It was the summer of 1993, and Helen G. Drinan, the head of human resources for the Bank of Boston, was taking aim at a deeply cherished corporate tradition.

The annual executive golf getaway -- it had to go.

"I wanted to get rid of this golf tournament once and for all," Drinan declared. "It was such a statement of tradition, hierarchy, top down, men at the top, everyone else working hard while the execs are off playing golf. Wrong symbol."

And so she got rid of it. Just months after Drinan was given the bank's top human resources position, she replaced the golf outing with a community service day: Dozens of senior executives spent the afternoon rebuilding a summer camp for needy children and scrubbing outhouses. They never returned to the links, at least not as a group.

Drinan has never been shy about shaking up corporate conventions. But she's never had a battle like the one that led the news this week.

This time, she was squaring off with a far more vaunted institution, the Roman Catholic Church, over allegations that the president of the church's healthcare system had sexually harassed numerous women. Drinan, the senior vice president for human resources at the Caritas Christi Health Care System, wanted him fired. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley wanted him reprimanded.

If some were taken aback that Drinan's view ultimately prevailed, few who know her were surprised at her perseverance.

"Helen is a pro, a pro's pro," said Chad Gifford, former head of the Bank of Boston. "She has a very acute sense of right and wrong. If someone winked at a woman, would that get her up in arms? No. Would she take a tighter view than some? Yes."

Drinan, 59, has been a fixture in Boston business circles for a quarter of a century. A Weymouth native, she worked for two decades at the Bank of Boston. The first woman ever to have served on the bank's management committee, she was a key player as the institution struggled through some hard times and was ultimately merged out of existence. After leaving the bank, she served as president of the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest human resources organization in the world, before assuming the Caritas job in 2003.

As blunt as she is smart, Drinan is regarded as a thoughtful leader in several areas of employee relations, including diversity and compensation. And when the news broke last weekend that she was calling for the Caritas president, Dr. Robert M. Haddad, to be fired because of sexual harassment, a few of her colleagues picked up the phone.

"I called her to say, `Helen, I am proud of you,' " said Judy Banker, executive vice president of Gatti & Associates, a human resources placement firm in Medfield who has worked with Drinan. "It is not an easy thing to have the courage to stand up and say what you think is right, not to mention when it involves going against your church."

Not everyone involved in the turbulent events of the past week, which culminated in Haddad's forced resignation on Wednesday night, agreed. A member of the hospital system's board questioned why it had taken Drinan's office so long to bring the complaints to its attention, and the board has requested a review of the department's procedures. Both the archdiocese and the specialist declined to comment.

In all her years of work in human resources, Drinan had never dealt with allegations against a chief executive officer. Nor was she particularly eager to do so.

"Did I worry I'd be fired? said Drinan. "I did. . . . But there is no out. You can't say, "I don't really feel like dealing with this.' "

But it was hardly her first brush with the subject. Drinan had handled handled numerous cases of sexual harassment in previous jobs. And she knew something of harassment, personally.

Drinan said she was sexually harassed as a teenager, while a waitress at Howard Johnson's in Quincy in 1966. A man approached her and propositioned her, for money.

Drinan was terrified. She did not know what to do.

Finally, she went to her boss, and he promptly told the customer to leave and not come back.

"I just remember being scared, very scared," Drinan said quietly.

It was not that incident but the example of her mother, who rose from working as a waitress to a post in personnel at Howard Johnson's, that propelled her to into the human resources field. Drinan graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received a master's degree and an MBA from Simmons College. She married her high school sweetheart, David Drinan, a real estate developer whose late father was a distant cousin of the Rev. Robert Drinan, the former congressman.

The mother of three children and grandmother of four, she shuttles between a house in Cohasset and a condomimium in South Boston. A lifelong Chatholic, she attends the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston regularly, and says that her faith has always informed her work. "My faith is central to who I am as a person," she said, "so, I take it everywhere."

For Drinan, the case began with a knock on the door on Feb. 3.

It was a woman who said that Haddad had harassed her. Drinan talked with her and suggested things she could do in case Haddad approached her again. But at this point, Drinan did not talk to Haddad or take the case further.

"There was always the possibility the complaint was not correct," Drinan said.

Although some harassment incidents at Caritas involving a single victim had resulted in the dismissal of employees, this case was different. Haddad was the president, and thus Drinan's boss.

So Drinan did not feel free to investigate or question him as she would a subordinate. To take on Haddad, an outside investigation would be required. She decided to monitor the case for a time to see if there was further corroboration.

She did not have to wait long. On March 8, a second woman stepped forward and said she, too, had been harassed by Haddad. What's more, she said, she knew of three other women who said they had endured such treatment.

Drinan was shaken. In all her career, she said, she had never had two people independently report harassment by the same individual in so short a time. And then there was the complicating fact that the man the women said had kissed them on the lips and touched them and called them at home, was her boss.

"You know, at that point, retirement was looking good," Drinan said with a small laugh.

Drinan brought two other senior employees in her department into the case. They conducted an investigation and, on April 24, Drinan referred the case to Wilson Rogers, the church's lawyer.

Soon afterward, O'Malley called for two outside lawyers to review the matter; one concluded that Haddad had violated federal workplace law, while another, an employment law specialist, advised that Haddad's behavior, while inappropriate, was not grounds for firing.

The issue was headed to a meeting of the hospital system's board on May 18th when Drinan, who had been invited to attend, was abruptly told by the archdiocese not to come. Stunned at O'Malley's subsequent decision that Haddad be reprimanded, Drinan wrote a series of angry e-mail messages to board members.

"I was upset that I was not being given a chance to do my job," Drinan said.

In the end, she got that chance. After The Boston Globe reported on the allegations against Haddad last Sunday, the controversy mushroomed. More women stepped forward saying they had been harassed. The cardinal called a meeting on Wednesday to reconsider the case, and this time, the board heard from Drinan and others about the events. At the end of the meeting, Haddad resigned.

For Drinan, there is some satisfaction that, for the women, "for all the nights they spent in the house crying, they now feel there is some justice."

About her church, Drinan is less clear. Drinan says she has struggled with her faith many times, but this time was particularly complex, "because it involved the keepers of the faith."

And her feelings about O'Malley? "I respect the fact that he is my boss," Drinan said. "I respect the fact that he leads the church of Boston. But we are all created equal in the eyes of God, and I can challenge him as readily as he can challenge me."


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