Brian A. Gallagher, who has led United Way Worldwide, the world’s largest privately funded nonprofit since 2009, abruptly announced his resignation Tuesday amid claims that the charity mishandled internal allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Gallagher’s resignation, announced in a farewell note, takes effect March 1. The group’s board of directors plans to announce an interim CEO before he leaves.
In November, after complaints filed by three former female employees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and published reports in HuffPost, United Way Worldwide hired a law firm to investigate the claims and the way the nonprofit’s leadership handled them. Last week, the firm, Proskauer Rose, concluded that management’s handling of the complaints was appropriate and that the dismissals were “based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons.”
Gallagher said in his farewell note that the report’s release made him decide to move up his planned exit.
“We were actively working toward a transition for me sometime later in 2021 at the conclusion of a CEO search process,” Gallagher wrote to his colleagues. “But, I and the board think it’s best for United Way if I step down as CEO sooner. It was important to me that I stay through this period so my colleagues and I could be cleared of any wrongdoing. That’s done; and now it feels like the right time.”
Lisa Bowman, who was executive vice president and chief marketing officer at United Way Worldwide until she said she was fired by Gallagher as retaliation for reporting sexual harassment by another executive, said the investigation was “not fair, balanced or thorough” because the investigators did not talk with any of the women involved.
“I was pleased to hear that United Way has decided to do the right thing and make a change in leadership,” Bowman told the Associated Press. “This was a necessary step — but only the first step — toward creating a safe, equitable workplace where women are treated with respect and allowed to reach their full potential.”
Bowman’s complaint with the EEOC is still pending.
“I hope that United Way will take this opportunity to listen and learn, so that it can continue and improve upon its important work to support communities around the world,” she said.
United Way Worldwide oversees charity work in 1,800 communities in more than 40 countries.
Gallagher, who began his career at United Way in 1981, worked at five local United Ways before becoming president and CEO of United Way of America in 2002. He took over the helm of United Way Worldwide in 2009.
“We are grateful for Brian’s four decades of leadership and service in the name of the United Way mission,” Dr. Juliette Tuakli, chairwoman of United Way Worldwide’s board of trustees, wrote in a statement. “Brian has always said that a great United Way leader is one who puts community interests first, their organization next, and their own interests last. Brian embodied that standard.”
United Way Worldwide officials had declined in recent weeks to comment on rumblings of local United Ways withholding their dues payments because of the allegations of misconduct. But Gallagher acknowledged that his exit comes at a tough time for United Way Worldwide, which recently instituted some layoffs at its Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters and temporary salary reductions for senior staff.
“It’s been a very difficult year,” Gallagher wrote to his colleagues. “The global pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, and stark inequities in our communities have led to great suffering for so many. The response of United Ways all over the world, and at United Way Worldwide, has been inspirational. We got back to our roots by helping those in most need through any means necessary, and we did it together; a lesson we should pull forward.”
The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content.