[Readers will note that my original post on this topic was written on April 27, 2010, when fuller details about Paul Levy’s conduct had yet to become public. The underlying facts are now known and well publicized: Levy had an inappropriate relationship with a female colleague in ways that negatively affected the work of the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital of which he was CEO.
I’ve decided to keep the original post with the updates. I believe his resignation, announced in January 2011, was appropriate. Many other employees would’ve been fired outright for such conduct, and rightly so. I also remain very troubled by the groundswell of mostly anonymous Internet commentary that continually accompanied news reports of this story.]
Paul Levy may not be a household name nationally, but within healthcare circles and New England generally, he is well known as the outspoken and forthright CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. His blog, Running a Hospital, is his popular platform for commentary about hospital administration and healthcare policy.
Anonymously dropping a dime
Well, it turns out that someone anonymously dropped a dime on Levy concerning an apparent personal lapse or indiscretion, and it was sufficient for the hospital’s board to check it out. The whole matter resulted in an agreement between Levy and the hospital that his conduct had been inappropriate, but not sufficient for him to lose his job. Levy himself has issued an apology for his conduct, without specifying what it happened to be.
At least that’s how the story is developing courtesy of the Boston Globe. And frankly, unless the details pertain more directly to Beth Israel Deaconess as an employer or perhaps Levy’s performance as a boss, I really don’t care to know more about his supposed transgression.
Work and privacy
Levy’s anonymous well-wisher obviously wanted to create difficulty for him. Levy is a public figure in these parts, and this incident may cause him some discomfort. Mission accomplished, right?
And how sad if that is the case…You know how I first learned about this story? I saw that people found this blog by typing in search terms such as “Paul Levy scandal.” (WordPress’s blog management function allows us to see popular search terms, but NOT the identity of the individual web surfer, I assure you!) Last year I wrote a blog entry about the hospital’s labor policies, and Levy responded with a perfectly appropriate critique of what I posted. So when folks started hunting around the Internet for more information about Levy’s personal situation, the search engines picked up my earlier post.
Good heavens, we’re seeing one of the most disturbing aspects of the Internet play out before us. An individual’s personal transgression, which by all accounts must be measured against a strong record of organizational and professional leadership, is translated into a “scandal” in the public eye. That is very, very wrong. I may not be in agreement with everything Levy has said or done. But this story may allow his critics to pile on top unfairly, and mob scenes scare me.
Update: The Boston Globe reports that the Levy situation involved a relationship with a female co-worker.
May 3 update: Levy posts an apology on his blog, which includes the text of a memo released by Beth Israel Deaconess announcing that he was censured and fined $50,000 by the board of trustees, while being retained as CEO of the hospital. Now that the matter appears to have been brought to a close, I’m going paste below my earlier response to one of the comments, as I believe it is equally appropo today:
Nothing I’ve read so far about this situation — though I confess I’m not nearly as well-read about it as others — suggests that it is anything but the kind of messy situation that occurs not-so-rarely in today’s workplace.
So, I’ll stick with my main concern. You can try to turn this into a case study about employment relations, but based on the online comments I’ve read on both Universal Hub and boston.com, this is yet another instance of too many people who (1) get a kick out of watching the potential downfall or at least embarrassment of a public figure; and (2) get all worked up over the fact that they — as self-appointed judge and jury — haven’t been given all the facts they desire to pass proper judgment.
If this was a particularly compelling story of an office relationship gone bad that teaches us new important lessons about the perils of the contemporary workplace, maybe I’d feel differently. But really now, this is same old, same old.
May 9 update: Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi takes a harsher view of Levy’s conduct in an op-ed piece:
Strip away the gauze and this is what the world sees: an arrogant CEO who intentionally put the reputation of his institution at risk to support the advancement of a female subordinate with whom he had a personal relationship.
Sept. 1 update: Gideon Gil reports for the Boston Globe that the Massachusetts Attorney General has sent an opinion letter to Beth Israel concluding that because Levy’s transgressions endangered the hospital’s reputation and management, the discipline imposed on him was appropriate and perhaps even necessary.
Jan. 7, 2011 update: Paul Levy submitted his resignation (link to letter, here). Although he does not give this situation as the reason for his departure, it would be surprising if the ongoing public criticism he has continued to field did not play a role in his decision.