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Caritas chief negotiating departure

Discussions said to focus on severance pay

The head of Boston's Catholic hospital system, facing a cascade of accusations that he sexually harassed female employees, will leave his job, participants involved in the process said yesterday.

They said that whether Dr. Robert M. Haddad resigns or is fired as president of the Caritas Christi Health Care System depends on whether he will accept a severance package that Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley can publicly justify for someone accused of serial sexual misconduct.

The hospital system's board will meet tonight on the issue.

Late yesterday, the two sides were far apart. Officials of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston were willing to offer Haddad several months' severance pay, but Haddad's lawyers were seeking a severance package of two years' compensation that would cost the archdiocese close to $3 million, according to those with knowledge of the negotiations.

Yesterday's intense, private negotiations unfolded after O'Malley decided that Haddad could not remain as Caritas president and after Haddad realized that his position had become untenable, according to five people involved.

All asked that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the departure talks.

The Globe reported Sunday that Haddad had been privately reprimanded by O'Malley and the board last Thursday for sexually harassing four female employees, even though some of his senior advisers and a top Caritas official had concluded that the offenses warranted dismissal.

The punishment was for repeated instances in which the four women allegedly were subjected to hugs, kisses on the mouth, other touching, and telephone calls to them about their personal lives.

After the story, more than 10 additional female employees came forward to lodge similar complaints with Caritas officials.

And the archdiocese has started a formal investigation of an incident in which several witnesses reported seeing Haddad allegedly winking and leering at one of the initial four victims.

That alleged incident occurred on May 10, just as the investigation that led to the reprimand was concluding.

O'Malley and the board chose a reprimand, despite being urged to dismiss Haddad by Helen G. Drinan, the Caritas senior vice president for human resources, as well as by senior church officials, who included Bishop Richard G. Lennon.

Lennon's rift with O'Malley over the issue broke into the open when the Globe reported yesterday that Lennon, O'Malley's vicar general until becoming the bishop of Cleveland last week, and his spokesman said that O'Malley removed Lennon from the Caritas board without legal authority only hours before last Thursday's meeting.

The archdiocese disputed Lennon's statement.

Yesterday, Haddad would not comment. His spokeswoman, Nancy Sterling, said only: ``Dr. Haddad is not resigning."

Drinan, who was disinvited from last Thursday's board meeting, has been asked to be at this evening's session.

Asked about that, Karen Schwartzman, a friend who is acting as a spokeswoman for Drinan, confirmed that Drinan expects to attend.

The cardinal, according to one adviser, was taken aback by Haddad's statement to the Globe, reported yesterday, that he ``never acted inappropriately" with the four women, even though he had accepted the reprimand for behavior that the archdiocese characterized as sexual harassment.

In the statement to the Globe, Haddad said that in the Lebanese culture in which he was raised, ``hugs and kisses among men and women are not only expected, but warmly given and received."

According to the people involved in the discussions about Haddad's departure, the Caritas board includes several people who are friendly with Haddad and who applaud him for transforming an ailing healthcare system into one that had an operating profit last year.

Those members believe he should not be let go without a respectable amount of money.

The board is largely made up of prominent Catholic laypeople.

Yet even among board members considered close to Haddad, the weight of the new allegations and the controversy they have engendered make the outcome clear.

``He cannot survive this; he can no longer continue to govern Caritas," one board member, who had agreed last week to the reprimand, said yesterday.

The member agreed to talk on condition that he not be identified.

As for the severance package, the board member said he felt that some modest settlement was in order. But he said: ``There can be no settlement that appears to reward him for his misbehavior."

Though there is sentiment among some archdiocesan officials that Haddad should be fired without any payment, Nancy Shilepsky, a Boston lawyer who has long specialized in sexual harassment cases, said there may be ample reason for Haddad to receive a compensation package.

In an interview yesterday, Shilepsky said that executive contracts typically contain provisions for termination with just cause, but may also contain conditions that the archdiocese cannot satisfy in a case in which it wants a swift departure.

``If [the provision] provides for an opportunity to improve, and the archbishop now realizes it's not a good thing to go through those steps, [Haddad] might have a breach of contract claim" if he is terminated, she said.

The church, she said, would find a settlement preferable to giving Haddad grounds for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

``Negotiating a departure in this situation is common," said Shilepsky.

Liz Kowalczyk of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Walter Robinson can be reached at wrobinson@globe.com.

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