Indian American political leader Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, has been accused of ‘outing’ a female staff member who complained of being sexually harassed by a fellow employee.
The news site Buzz Feed, which broke the story, investigated complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, a powerhouse for progressive politics. It reported the story April 23, focusing on a woman named only as ‘Mary,’ who had quit in 2016, saying she had been sexually victimized. In her exit memo to CAP leadership, Mary wrote: “On several occasions, myself and others on the team felt as if reporting had been a mistake and that the retaliation, worsening of already tenuous team dynamics, and treatment by supervisors outweighed the seemingly positive act of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.”
“CAP’s culture obscures its mission. I surely expected better out of an organization that housed a national campaign on sexual assault,” wrote Mary.
After the story broke, Tanden sent an e-mail April 24 to staff members saying: “I am deeply sorry that anyone has felt unsupported after having the courage to come forward. “When any staffer doesn’t feel comfortable or feels like they are being badly treated, that’s a problem for us. It is our commitment to continue to learn and work harder to ensure we have a workplace where every single staffer feels comfortable.”
“At the end of the day the most important thing is that our staff feel safe, supported, and listened to. That that didn’t happen is something that is on me to rectify for the future,” said Tanden, a former member of the Obama administration, who was key to developing the first version of the Affordable Care Act.
But the following day, Tanden referred to Mary by name several times during the course of an all-company staff meeting.
When asked by an employee in the meeting about Mary’s report that she had faced retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, however, Tanden used Mary’s first name twice in quick succession and then paused. Several people gasped after Tanden used the woman’s name and then apologized, according to the BuzzFeed News report.
“Lots of awkward silence after that, lots of gasps as it happened. Neera genuinely seemed shaken and kept apologizing,” one staffer who was in the room told BuzzFeed News.
“I sincerely hope it was an accident. People audibly gasped when she did that,” another staffer who was in the meeting told BuzzFeed News via text. “How can we trust any of this now that you can’t even get that right? Can we even trust the apology? We certainly weren’t given any reason to.”