Eric Lander RESIGNS after review finds he mistreated staff: Top White House scientist apologizes for ‘demeaning’ subordinates and ‘hurt’ he caused to colleagues
This article features Government Accountability Project’s whistleblower client, Rachel Wallace, and was originally published here.
President Joe Biden’s top science adviser Eric Lander resigned Monday night after apologizing for mistreating his staff.
An internal review by the White House found ‘credible evidence’ that Lander, the Office of Science and Technology Policy chief, bullied subordinates and treated his staff in a way that contradicts the administration’s workplace policy.
‘The President accepted Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening with gratitude for his work at OSTP on the pandemic, the Cancer Moonshot, climate change, and other key priorities,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday night in a statement. ‘He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.’
Biden promised on his first day in office that he would run the executive office with a zero tolerance policy for workplace bullying.
In a letter to Biden on Monday night, Lander said he would leave the White House by February 18.
‘I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them,’ he wrote. ‘It is clear that things I said, and the way I said them, crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning, to both men and women. That was never my intention. Nonetheless, it is my fault and my responsibility. I will take this lesson forward. I believe it is not possible to continue effectively in my role, and the work of this office is far too important to be hindered.’
Earlier in the evening, the news broke that the American Association for the Advancement of Science had disinvited Lander from attending the group’s annual meeting next week.
The group warned that ‘toxic behavioral issues still make their way into the STEM community where they stifle participation and innovation’ and said Lander would not longer be giving a speech, according to Politico.
On Monday afternoon, Psaki was forced to defend the Biden administration for keeping the president’s top science adviser after the review.
‘The president has crystal clear expectations with all of us about how we are to treat our colleagues, treat people who work for us, and that is what he expects for people across the building,’ the press secretary said when asked how workers should square Lander’s job security with Biden’s day-one pledge.
But instead of answering why the president didn’t follow through on that promise in Lander’s case, Psaki instead credited it for the White House’s workplace policy that’s seen the surly scientist meet face-to-face with senior officials and forced him to conduct ‘brown bag sessions’ speaking through issues with his staff.
‘It is because of those comments that he made early on, in part, that we put in place a safe and respectful workplace policy that was the mechanism for which this thorough investigation went forward,’ Psaki explained.
‘And it also, it is based on that thorough investigation, from that, came the meeting that Dr. Lander had with senior White House officials where it was made clear what steps he was required to take that we will be complying and watching for compliance with those steps.’
Lander was accused of creating an abusive work environment, demeaning women and berating staff by more than two dozen employees just last year, according to Politico.
The report included details about Lander yelling at colleagues and deliberately demeaning them by asking questions outside of their expertise until they are forced to admit they don’t know the answer, with one OSTP employee claiming he had a ‘Jekyll and Hyde personality.’
Psaki was asked about Lander three separate times during Monday’s press conference.
At the outset she said it was Biden’s zero-tolerance policy that led to ‘this safe and respectful workplace policy to ensure there was a mechanism, right, to conduct investigations, as was conducted in this case, that can be thorough, that result in some actions and some steps.’
The Biden official stressed multiple times that Lander’s was ‘not acceptable behavior’ nor was it condoned by the president, the first lady, or anyone in the executive office.
When asked if Biden spoke with Lander personally on the matter, Psaki said she had no conversations to report.
‘The president’s hope, all of our hope certainly, is that Dr. Lander will abide by making changes that he will be held to account, to comply fully with the steps that needed to be taken,’ she said.
A White House spokesperson told DailyMail.com earlier on Monday a ‘full and thorough investigation was conducted’ and that it was ‘taking swift action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again’ but did not say that Lander would be leaving his role — despite Biden’s day-one promise to not tolerate bullies.
Biden had elevated Princeton graduate Lander’s role to Cabinet level to demonstrate his administration’s focus on science and innovation.
But the pledge the president made on January 20 of last year to fire workplace bullies ‘on the spot’ has been called into question by unnamed OSTP employees who believed the White House’s reported disciplinary measures against Lander did not go far enough.
The employees, more than half of whom accused Lander of causing deliberate public humiliation, asked to remain anonymous in fear of him retaliation against them.
Lander, who once set a goal of having a vaccine ready within 100 days of the next pandemic’s outbreak, is spearheading the White House’s initiative to drastically cut cancer mortality rates.
A probe was opened late last year into accusations that Lander violated the Executive Office of the President’s workplace policy, an OSTP spokesperson told DailyMail.com.
Politico notes that a complaint filed by former OSTP general counsel Rachel Wallace to Christian Peele, the White House’s deputy director of management and administration for personnel, was at the center of the investigation. Wallace is a career government official who worked within the OSTP under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Lander ‘retaliated against staff for speaking out and asking questions by calling them names, disparaging them, embarrassing them in front of their peers, laughing at them, shunning them, taking away their duties, and replacing them or driving them out of the agency. Numerous women have been left in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated,’ Wallace told the outlet.
She also reportedly claimed that Lander deliberately demoted her.
An OSTP spokesperson told DailyMail.com that the probe found no credible evidence of gender-based discrimination and said ‘the complainant’s reassignment was deemed appropriate.’
They also said Lander has since met with senior White House officials on the matter and was reminded of Biden and Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s expectations about proper treatment of staff.
Lander admitted to behaving ‘in a disrespectful or demeaning way’ toward his staff, which numbers around 140, in an internal email sent late on Friday and obtained by DailyMail.com.
‘It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility,’ Lander wrote.
‘I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning way. This is not only wrong, but also inconsistent with our Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. It is never acceptable for me to speak that way.’
He added: ‘I am deeply sorry for my conduct. I especially want to apologize to those of you who I treated poorly, or were present at the time. I also realize that my conduct reflects poorly on this Administration, and interferes with our work. I deeply regret that.’
Lander promised to hold ‘regular forums’ with his staff to practice a more open and respectful workspace.
But Wallace told Politico Lander’s mea culpa ‘did not come close to addressing the full extent of his egregious behavior.’
‘Lander’s apology was not only disingenuous. It compounded the deep hurt and damage he has caused by ignoring these other acts of aggression, harassment and retaliation,’ Wallace told the outlet.
Without going into further detail an OSTP spokesperson told DailyMail.com Lander would now have to ‘undertake a number of actions to the correct the behavior’ while maintaining that OSTP staff will continue to be supported.
The OSTP spokesperson added that the White House would be monitoring Lander’s progress.
When asked for comment on the probe, a White House spokesperson told DailyMail.com: ‘The White House is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful work environment in which employees can focus their time and energy on working for the American people. The President put in place a first-of-its-kind Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy to maintain a healthy work environment, and has been clear that conduct that is inconsistent with that policy will not be tolerated, and will be addressed appropriately.’
‘A full and thorough investigation was conducted pursuant to the Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. White House leadership met with Dr. Lander to discuss the seriousness of the matter and the President’s expectation that all staff interactions be conducted with respect. We take this incredibly seriously and we are taking swift action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.’
But a number of OSTP employees who also allegedly experienced abusive behavior firsthand expressed disappointment that Biden and the White House are not going further. The Associated Press reported that Lander will keep his job but will attend counseling