CVS executives ousted after internal investigation showed mishandling of sexual harassment complaints

PROVIDENCE — Karen Lynch, the chief executive officer of CVS Health, removed “several” executives following an internal investigation into how they handled a series of sexual harassment complaints.

Lynch, who took over as CEO a year ago, said the company will now overhaul how it handles complaints in the future. She first became aware of the complaints made by “at least two” female employees that alleged a New Jersey-based regional store manager had either harassed or inappropriately touched them at work, The Wall Street Journal first reported on Friday.

Lynch oversaw an investigation, which CVS said was carried out by a professional investigator, and ousted the manager and senior executives who oversaw him. This manager, according to the report, oversaw hundreds of stores.

“After a thorough investigation conducted with an outside independent firm, we quickly terminated the individual and others have since been exited from the company for failing to treat allegations with the seriousness we expect,” said Joe Goode, a company spokesman, in an e- mail to the Globe.

CVS Health Corporation President and CEO Karen Lynch. Associated Press

On a call to the company’s senior leadership on Friday, Lynch said she planned to give employees a “confidential channel” to navigate what she described as a “challenging situation.” She sent a letter to staff later in the day, saying she had terminated the unnamed regional manager.

Goode told the Globe that the company enhanced its internal reporting and investigation processes by creating an “Office of Workplace Assistance,” which will be overseen by Lynch.

“The individual leading this function has established an impartial and independent resource to help ensure colleague concerns are handled confidentially and with the utmost importance,” said Goode.

Goode said the company recently communicated details on this new resource to “all colleagues.”

“Our investigation also revealed that other employees failed in their duty to treat such allegations with the seriousness we expect, and they are no longer with the company,” she wrote in the memo.

“I want to be crystal clear: this company does not tolerate harassment or hostile, abusive or discriminatory behaviors of any kind from any employee — regardless of position,” she wrote in the memo. “We also will not tolerate inaction from leaders who are responsible for escalating concerns or allegations raised by our colleagues.”

Goode did not say how many company executives were removed from their posts.

CVS operates nearly more than 9,000 drug stores and the Aetna insurance company, employing more than 300,000 people.

“Our commitment to providing a safe, healthy, and respectful working environment for our 300,000 colleagues is stronger than ever,” said Goode. “We encourage colleagues to report any incidents – anonymously if they choose – without fear of retaliation. We take complaints seriously, investigate them promptly, and take swift action when warranted.”

In November, CVS leadership announced it would begin closing 900 stores nationwide over the next three years due to changes in consumer shopping behavior, population, and the “future of health care needs.”

Closures are set to begin this spring, but a company spokeswoman told the Globe previously that they would not be releasing the locations of these stores.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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