Mr. Eric S. Lander, the president’s top science adviser, resigned on Monday evening after admitting that he had treated his colleagues with demeaning and disrespectful language. His actions drew immediate questions about how he could keep his job in light of President Biden’s promise to fire any aide who treated others with disrespect.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement that “the president received Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening with thanks” for his contributions to the administration.
The administration’s standard on respectful workplace behaviour was breached by Dr. Lander, a cabinet-level official, according to an internal inquiry, which resulted in his sending an apology to his employees by email. In his resignation letter to the president, he expressed his apologies for having been disrespectful once again, this time to the president.
Mr. Biden said on his first day in office that anybody who was found to be disrespectful to another colleague would be fired on the spot.
When Mr. Biden addressed a group of appointees on Inauguration Day, the President said, “If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with contempt or speak down to someone, I guarantee you that I will dismiss you on the spot.” “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the right to be treated with respect and dignity. For the last four years, there has been a significant lack of this.”
The case of Dr. Lander had already been made public by Politico. Against Dr. Lander and other officials in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Rachel Wallace, Dr. Lander’s former general counsel, filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.
According to the findings of the inquiry into Ms. Wallace’s allegation, he had engaged in “bullying” conduct against her. According to the Politico storey, investigators reportedly discovered “solid evidence of situations in which many women complained to other members of the staff about bad contacts with Dr. Lander.”
The review did not turn up any serious evidence of gender-based discrimination, according to an administration official who was not allowed to talk publicly about the process. Ms. Wallace’s reassignment was considered proper, the person said. Ms. Wallace has been promoted to the position of deputy counsel and chief operations officer at the office.
Dr. Lander was originally supported by the White House. In an earlier press conference on Monday, Ms. Psaki answered questions from reporters about the situation, including some that questioned how the president could maintain a zero-tolerance policy on workplace harassment when Dr. Lander was still on the job, among other things.
However, once Ms. Wallace publicly said that his apology was insufficient and that his conduct had been pervasive, abusive, and primarily directed at women, the pressure increased fast and significantly.
According to a copy of the document obtained by The New York Times, it was sent to employees in May by Dana Remus, the White House counsel, and states that “discrimination; harassment, including sexual harassment; bullying; and retaliation violate the respect owed to every employee in the White House, and such conduct will not be tolerated.” A reasonable person would perceive bullying to be disrespectful, threatening, hostile, humiliating or offensive.
When he was nominated to be President Biden’s science advisor, he was already well-known within the scientific world for having offended female colleagues. Last January, 500 female scientists penned an editorial in Scientific American in which they begged with President Biden to consider appointing someone else to the role, ideally a female scientist.
In their letter, the group said that “although we can applaud the Biden-Harris administration’s dedication to research, we must acknowledge that Lander has a reputation among certain scientists for being controversial, and colleagues have chastised him for his ‘ego without limit.” They also pointed out that he had previously toasted James Watson, a molecular scientist who, according to the letter’s writers, had a “long history of racist and sexist statements,” and that he has done so in the past.