Dr. Michael Caldwell apologized and accepted that he has work to do with what he described as “unconscious bias” toward women. But the Metro Board of Health decided the director of the city’s Public Health Department could not regain the confidence of his 700 employees, especially while trying to lead the city out of a pandemic.
Caldwell resigned under pressure Thursday night.
The resignation follows a human resources investigation into complaints of sexism that was released publicly earlier this week. The HR team confirmed the initial complaint that he tried to fire a bureau director the same day they had a disagreement, and that Caldwell accused her of being overly emotional because she was pregnant. The report also found a broader pattern of diminishing the roles of women in the department.
Upon reading the 15-page report and speaking to subordinates, Caldwell says he was “shaken” and that it “changed my point of view both personally and professionally.” He told the Board of Health he never noticed that he called on men before women in meetings.
The six-member board initially discussed allowing him to continue with leadership coaching and inclusion training. But even with the apology, some felt that wasn’t enough.
“We would not condone this behavior from the rank and file. I don’t think it would be appropriate to condone this behavior from the director,” board member Tene Franklin said at Thursday night’s meeting.
Dr. Alex Jahangir, who chairs the board, said he could not see another way forward except for a “clean slate” and asked Dr. Caldwell to resign during the meeting. Caldwell resisted at first, but once board members were about to vote on firing him, he agreed to resign. The board voted unanimously to accept his resignation.
Caldwell was hired in March, just as COVID-19 was starting to spread across the U.S. As health director, he’s been tasked with overseeing the city’s coronavirus response.
Caldwell committed to helping provide a smooth transition. He will be kept on Metro payroll through the end of the year, so long as he cooperates with the transition in an advisory role.