Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley last week decided to privately reprimand Caritas Christi Health Care System's president, Dr. Robert M. Haddad, for multiple instances of kissing and other physical touching involving four women employees, despite an investigation by senior Caritas Christi officials that concluded that Haddad should be fired, according to internal documents and e-mails obtained by the Globe.
In response to questions from the Globe, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston late yesterday acknowledged taking the internal action. It said the cardinal decided on a ''stern reprimand" against Haddad after hiring outside counsel to investigate the allegations and after the governing board of the church's sprawling healthcare system voted unanimously, with one abstention, to endorse the sanction.
The statement described Haddad's actions as ''hugging or kissing of hospital employees . . . in public and private," and said Haddad had personally promised O'Malley he would never offend in that way again and would enroll in a sexual harassment sensitivity training program. A repeat occurrence or any retaliatory action will result in his dismissal, the statement said.
Those were the first such allegations received by the church about Haddad, the statement added.
''Cardinal Sean took these allegations extremely seriously and sought to resolve them as expeditiously as possible, in a manner that is fair to all involved parties," the statement said.
But the cardinal's response to the allegations left some prominent officials who were aware of Haddad's behavior in a state of disbelief and outrage.
One of those stunned by the decision to rebuke but not dismiss Haddad is Helen G. Drinan, senior vice president for human resources at Caritas, who sent an e-mail Thursday to the board members in which she declared: ''I know what will befall this organization when the public learns that the Church in Boston has once again put the powerful predator ahead of the powerless victim."
In a May 8 letter to O'Malley, Drinan said Caritas had ''always" fired other employees who have engaged in similar behavior.
She also advised him that both she and Jean Musiker, an outside lawyer who was brought in to conduct an independent inquiry, concluded that Haddad violated federal workplace law, as well as the written sexual harassment prohibitions of Caritas Christi, which operates six hospitals and has 12,000 employees.
Drinan, who fielded the initial complaints about Haddad from women employees, elaborated on Haddad's behavior in an e-mail to members of the Caritas Christi board of governors on Friday, a day after they endorsed O'Malley's decision.
Haddad, she wrote, ''hugs subordinate female employees, kisses them on the lips, rubs them on the back, calls them late at night, and asks them about matters that are highly personal to them."
She also said that, even during the course of the investigation, Haddad continued to behave inappropriately, citing a report from Peter Holden, president of the Caritas hospital in Methuen, that Haddad ''was observed to be winking and leering" at one of the four women complainants a week earlier.
Haddad, who is 52, did not return a phone call yesterday. A woman who answered the phone at his home said he had nothing to say.
Drinan, in another e-mail to the board, accused O'Malley of improperly interceding in the investigation to help Haddad, giving him advance notice of the probe, providing him with an adviser, and telling of the reprimand before consulting with the Caritas board. The cardinal's actions ''have made a mockery of the investigation. It is nothing short of shameful," she wrote.
Stephen B. Perlman, the cardinal's outside counsel on the issue, took issue with Drinan's view of the case. He said it was appropriate for O'Malley to see if Haddad would accept the penalty before he took his recommendation to the board. Perlman said he did not know whether O'Malley alerted Haddad in advance.
Perlman, who is an employment law specialist at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said that in his opinion, Haddad's behavior did not warrant termination. And he said that, in the prior cases cited by Drinan of employees who had been fired, those terminations were not justified and were ''draconian."
Hugging and kissing, Perlman said, can range from sexually predatory behavior to ''effusive, friendly warmth that is nonetheless unwelcome." Haddad's misbehavior, he said, falls into the latter category. Perlman also said he did not consider the behavior illegal.
Haddad came to Boston from Pennsylvania to become president of Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in 2001. He was named president of the entire system two years ago, replacing Dr. Michael Collins, who had been removed by O'Malley.
In taking issue with Drinan on behalf of O'Malley, Perlman has chosen a formidable adversary. In the human resources profession, Drinan has extensive experience and is well-known.
Before taking the Caritas Christi job in 2003, she was president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest human resources professional organization. Before that, she was executive vice president for human resources at BankBoston. She is also a member of several boards, including those of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Simmons College.
Drinan, asked about the e-mails and letters, declined to be interviewed, saying, ''The letters and e-mails speak for themselves."
Over the course of her communications on the matter, Drinan's tone evolved from one of deference and faith -- ''I have prayed for guidance and direction. I want to do the right thing," she wrote O'Malley -- to ominous warnings of what it could mean for the church if Haddad were not dismissed.
Drinan said ''perhaps most troubling" was what she called the ''near absence" of concern for the women complainants that she said was shown by the church hierarchy.
But the statement issued by the archdiocese says that outreach to the four women is underway, now that the case has been resolved.
The outside investigator appointed by O'Malley ''is in the process of making direct outreach to the women who brought these complaints forward, to assure them that their complaints were taken extremely seriously . . . and that the sanctions imposed were in keeping with the recommendations of the outside labor experts."
Haddad has also been told if there are any reports of retaliatory actions against the women or any further complaints against him, he will be ''immediately terminated."
In her May 8 letter to O'Malley, addressed, ''Dear Cardinal Sean," Drinan's tone begins as deferential, but later she writes: ''This is no longer a matter for me of what the law requires of me in my job, because I have satisfied that obligation; it is now a matter of my conscience and responsibility as a person who does indeed believe in Christ's teaching.
''I cannot stand aside or participate," she continued, ''in an effort to protect the institution and its powerful leader [Haddad] as priority over compassion for those injured by shameful and inexcusable conduct."
Drinan also said Haddad had been warned before about ''unwelcome conduct." Last night, Perlman acknowledged that two Caritas officials had verbally warned Haddad some time ago about similar behavior. But he said no report had been prepared and no formal counseling was done, as should have been the case. Had that occurred, he said, ''I expect the behavior would have stopped then."
According to Drinan's letter, Musiker, a former general counsel for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, ''reported to us that the women victims, and others she interviewed, reported conduct by Dr. Haddad that is most certainly illegal. She reported to us that the victims were consistent and credible in reporting facts. She reported to us that Dr. Haddad was not credible, most importantly when he denied ever having been cautioned in the past about his inappropriate conduct in the workplace."
In a reference to the sexual abuse scandal that left the archdiocese badly scarred, Drinan wrote: ''Cardinal Sean, we would be holding Dr. Haddad to the same standard as every other employee if he were immediately terminated. The fact that he is in a position of greater power and authority heightens his responsibility, not ours. Further, and perhaps most troubling about the way this matter has unfolded, is the near absence of concern for the victims, an outcome I never would have expected given the recent challenges the Church in Boston has faced."
Sexual harassment is considered to be a violation of provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ''Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."
The same terms are repeated in the Caritas Christi sexual harassment policy, which describes sexual harassment as including ''unnecessary touching of an individual, e.g., patting, pinching, hugging, repeated brushing against another person's body." The policy is signed by Haddad.
Whether or not a dismissal was warranted, as Drinan contended, depends on the extent of the behavior and whether the women were made to feel uncomfortable, according to employment law specialists who were asked about the case yesterday.
Harvey A. Schwartz, a prominent Boston lawyer who has handled hundreds of such cases in the workplace, said in an interview that any institution could face substantial legal jeopardy if it did not fire an employee after concluding that he violated the law. A jury, he said, might decide on extraordinary punitive damages if a lawsuit were brought.
If it is true, as Drinan asserted, that the investigation found violations of the law, then a reprimand would not be the appropriate remedy, Schwartz said. ''I do not see how an institution could possibly justify keeping an employee who has broken the law," he said.
''What do you tell the next guy who's brought up on similar charges? What do you tell the next woman who is hassled in a sexual manner by someone in a position of power? Do you tell her, 'Don't complain about it. We consider powerful guys to be too important?' "
Walter Robinson can be reached at email@example.com.