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For years, Fenway health center kept prominent doctor accused of harassment, bullying

Dr. Harvey Makadon.
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Dr. Harvey Makadon.

Fenway Community Health Center permitted a doctor accused of sexually harassing and bullying employees to continue working there for four years after the first serious complaint was filed in 2013, according to interviews with current and former employees and documents reviewed by the Globe.

The Boston medical institution, known for its pioneering care and advocacy for patients in the gay community, paid an outside law firm twice in the last four years to investigate allegations made against the doctor, Harvey J. Makadon, according to the sources. The second time, in 2015, chief executive Stephen Boswell ignored the lawyers’ recommendation to fire Makadon, and failed to report the matter to the board of directors, according to three people who work for Fenway and an internal document compiled by some employees to summarize events related to Makadon.

Fenway last year paid a former male employee $75,000 to settle allegations that Makadon had sexually harassed and bullied him, according to the three people and one former employee who knows the man. But the board did not learn of the settlement until January 2017, employees said and Fenway officials confirmed.

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Makadon’s alleged unwelcome touching of some male co-workers was widely known, according to three female former employees who witnessed it or were told of the behavior by alleged victims. It also was well known that Makadon, a prominent advocate for LGBT health care and a former chairman of the Fenway board, at times yelled at and belittled both male and female staff members, current and former employees said.

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Makadon, 70, was forced to resign by March 1, five weeks after the board finally learned from another executive of the allegations dating back to 2013, according to the employees. In a departure email to Fenway staff, Makadon said an “exhausting” work trip earlier this year had “reinforced my thoughts that it is time for me to retire from full-time leadership and work.” Makadon was allowed to stay on as a consultant for another month, and then, after nearly a decade at the center, his name was removed from the website.

But Makadon’s alleged victims and some current and former employees say neither the doctor nor the center’s leaders have been held accountable for years of inappropriate behavior. The alleged victims and witnesses coming forward about Makadon, and Fenway’s handling of the complaints against him, have been emboldened by the wave of sexual harassment cases sweeping the nation, involving the upper ranks of entertainment, politics, and the media.

Makadon, in phone interviews, denied he sexually harassed coworkers, and said Fenway executives did not present to him the allegations being brought to light in this report.

“Any allegation that my behavior at Fenway was sexually abusive in any way is completely untrue,’’ Makadon said in a prepared statement.

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Fenway Chairman Robert H. Hale, responding to the Globe’s questions, acknowledged that the board did not learn of the allegations against Makadon until early this year — long after Boswell, the chief executive, knew about them. When the board found out, Hale said in a statement, it “took prompt and appropriate action to address the matter.”

After serving patients, Hale said, Fenway has “no greater obligation than to assure a safe, respectful workplace environment for our employees.” He noted that Makadon had research responsibilities and did not treat patients at Fenway.

The Fenway employees who spoke to the Globe asked not to be identified, for fear of retaliation and losing their jobs. Former employees asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Interviews and documents reviewed by the Globe detailed behavior by Makadon from 2013 through 2016 that allegedly involved uninvited touching of at least three Fenway employees — unwanted shoulder and neck rubs, a hand on a knee, hovering too close at a work station, and in the worst case, allegedly putting his hand into the back of someone’s pants. Employees also reported persistent dinner invitations and, in some instances, unwanted touching at off-site events.

In three sexual harassment cases where formal complaints were made, male employees also reported being made to feel uncomfortable while alone in Makadon’s office with the door shut. One man started keeping a chair between himself and Makadon to prevent unwanted touching at his cubicle, according to a lawyer’s letter reviewed by the Globe and interviews with former Fenway co-workers.

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Some employees who complained about Makadon’s behavior were advised to toughen up, according to the sources, and were told it was just “Harvey being Harvey.”

One of the alleged victims still works for Fenway. He said Makadon once asked if he could kiss him. Another time, he said, Makadon allegedly got close to him in an elevator, put an arm around his back and then slid his hand down the back of the man’s pants.

The stories of two of the alleged victims who filed complaints — the one who settled and the man allegedly assaulted in the elevator — were corroborated by people close to them who heard the accounts firsthand shortly after they occurred. The third was confirmed by a Fenway employee with knowledge of the events.

Makadon denied the elevator incident and also said he had never tried to kiss anyone. He said Fenway has a culture where people sometimes hug or have casual contact, and that his behavior was not outside the norm.

“I was never, ever told anything about people’s discomfort,” Makadon said. “The one thing that I feel terrible about is that I didn’t know about it, and nobody told me about it so I could change the behavior.”

Almost worse than Makadon’s alleged behavior, current and former employees said, was Fenway’s failure to stop it. Fenway’s chairman, Hale, said executives did have “specific discussions” about the allegations with team members and Makadon.

Makadon did not deny he could be hard to work with. He acknowledged that, after the bullying complaints, Fenway required him to undergo a series of executive coaching sessions.

“I always knew there were people who felt like I was difficult,’’ he said. While admitting to a combative work relationship with one alleged victim, he denied sexually harassing the man.

In many ways, Fenway Health is an unlikely place for the alleged abuse to have happened. The health care center was founded in the 1970s and became an early provider of care for men with AIDS and HIV. Long before acceptance of gays and lesbians was mainstream in Massachusetts, the center was considered a safe space, and officials there have advocated over the years on issues from same-sex marriage to transgender rights.

But like other institutions where years of harassment are coming to light, Fenway, too, has had a boys’ club culture, according to the current and former employees.

Makadon, a Columbia University-educated physician, was affiliated with Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for most of his career and has been a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty since 1980. He was director of education and training at the Fenway Institute, Fenway’s research arm, where he wrote a textbook and built a niche speaking with medical practitioners around the country on treating LGBT patients.

Makadon in 2016 was honored by the Massachusetts Medical Society with its LGBT Health Award, citing his outstanding contributions to the field. Last May, he received an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University for his work.

But in February 2013, a sexual harassment complaint was filed against Makadon with Fenway’s human resources department, according to employees and the summary document. That triggered the first investigation by the Boston law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which resulted in sexual harassment training across the nonprofit, and individual training for Makadon, according to the sources.

By July 2015, Fenway had adopted a “zero tolerance” policy on harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace, according to the sources. That same month, the employee reported the elevator incident, and another employee also lodged a complaint, according to the sources.

That spurred the nonprofit’s chief financial officer, Jeffrey Lieberman, to order a second investigation by Seyfarth Shaw, according to the sources. Both Lieberman and the legal investigation report advised Fenway’s chief executive, Boswell, to fire Makadon, the sources said.

But Boswell said Makadon was “too important” to fire, according to employees and the summary document.

Instead, Makadon was placed on a month-long leave and required to get more sexual harassment training, according to the sources. The management team was not broadly informed of the investigation, the sources said, so managers were not alerted that Makadon should have faced greater scrutiny going forward.

As a result, Makadon’s alleged victims had to keep working with him; at least one had to continue meeting with him alone in his office, according to the sources.

Boswell declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said, “With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to me that more timely and direct action on this situation was warranted.”

He also apologized for his handling of the situation and said new policies have been adopted so it won’t happen again: “If my actions in this matter sent an inadvertent message to the Fenway Health community that this behavior will be tolerated, I am sorry.”

In January 2017, after more complaints about Makadon, Lieberman asked for a meeting with Hale, the board chairman who is also a Boston lawyer, according to employees and the summary record. Lieberman shared with him the Seyfarth Shaw investigations, the sources said, and urged Hale to fire Makadon.

In March 2017, Fenway changed Makadon’s status to consultant from employee, according to the sources, but in April, the chairman ordered that Makadon be let go for good. The rest of his consulting contract was canceled, according to two employees and the summary document.

Makadon’s alleged behavior has been costly for Fenway, a medical institution with a $100 million budget that employs about 500 people and treats 29,500 patients annually. The expenses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the employees, including the settlement, the legal investigations, and harassment training. There also has been significant stress among employees and a number of departures, according to interviews.

At least a half-dozen employees have left the nonprofit as a result of Makadon’s harassment or a hostile work environment, the sources said. A number of people who say they are former employees have left scathing reviews of Fenway management on Glassdoor, a job website, to the alarm of some executives.

After Makadon’s dismissal, the board hired the Boston law firm Mintz Levin to conduct a review, this time of Fenway’s workplace policies and the actions taken by management and the board in response to the Makadon complaints, according to Fenway’s statement.

Fenway said it revised its policies on harassment, discrimination, and bullying, and held mandatory senior management training.

The board also approved a new contract for Boswell, despite what Hale called “considered concerns” about how he had handled the Makadon complaints, and having failed to disclose the problems to the board.

After the Globe published the allegations about Makadon on its website Friday, Hale and Boswell sent an e-mail to Fenway staff saying that “if internal leadership’s actions sent an inadvertent message to the Fenway Health community that this behavior is tolerated, we offer our community not only an apology, but a pledge to do better.”

The e-mail also said Fenway’s board “has nonetheless reaffirmed our continued strong support for Dr. Boswell’s leadership.”

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth. Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at sacha.pfeiffer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer. Kay Lazar of the Globe staff contributed to this report.