Silicon Valley Community Foundation employees ‘stunned’ by Emmett Carson’s new gig

Current and former Silicon Valley Community Foundation employees on Thursday reacted with shock, awe and disgust at the news that Emmett Carson, the foundation’s disgraced ex-CEO, landed a top job at one of the country’s most prestigious museums.

“I’m very, very surprised that a museum of that caliber and with that caliber of leadership on the board would not be concerned with the appearance of hiring someone who condoned workplace bullying for 10 years,” said Helen Clark Dannelly, who worked at the organization as a fundraiser. “I don’t know how Emmett spun that story.”

Carson, who quit last June amid accusations that he turned a blind eye to workplace harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct by his top executive, Mari Ellen Loijens, is now the chief operating officer of the prestigious Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The museum, founded by famed director George Lucas, has esteemed filmmakers such as Guillermo del Torro and Steven Spielberg on its board. In a statement to San José Spotlight, a museum spokesperson said the board is “delighted” that Carson joined as COO to “oversee internal operations of our fast-growing institution.”

“Emmett is a seasoned leader and brings tremendous experience in helping institutions scale and will guide us through a successful opening,” the statement said.

The spokesperson said museum officials were aware of Carson’s history at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“The museum is fully aware of the allegations during Emmett’s time at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation,” the statement continued. “We have full confidence in Emmett and his abilities and believe he is an invaluable addition to the museum team and that he will help guide us on a successful path as we build a world-class institution.”

But Dannelly said the move is “stunning” given Carson’s decision to ignore sexually inappropriate remarks made by his executive, Loijens. Dannelly said she tried to warn Carson multiple times about Loijens’ behavior, but was brushed off.

“People tried to go to him. He gave her all the leeway to do whatever she wanted,” Dannelly said Thursday. “It was the worst working environment I’ve been in and I’ve been in this profession for 20 years.”

In one instance, Dannelly said, Loijens tried to fire her after a high-level meeting with philanthropist John A. Sobrato about a real estate trust — though the meeting went off without a hitch, and she was later commended by Carson. Loijens did not provide a reason for the threat, according to Dannelly.

Loijens allegedly made sexually charged remarks, asking Dannelly if she had any “pet names” for her boyfriend in bed during a lunch with multiple staff members. Carson ignored Dannelly’s complaint, she said.

“She told us, ‘When I get nervous, I make sexually inappropriate comments,'” Dannelly recalled.

Loijens also resigned last year amid an investigation commissioned by the SVCF board.

A current Silicon Valley Community Foundation employee, who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution, said the culture at the foundation continues to suffer, despite the departure of Carson and Loijens. The foundation in January hired new CEO Nicole Taylor, who pledged to rebuild the foundation and restore employee morale.

The community foundation has implemented a task force to address workplace harassment, bullying and other cultural issues following the scandal.

The employee, who’s worked for the organization for more than four years, said news of Carson’s new job has not yet spread at work. But when it does, it’ll be met by surprise and disappointment — though some workers still defend Carson and remain loyal to the charismatic CEO, who led the organization for 11 years.

“There will be some people who will be really disappointed that an institution like the museum is willing to take such a chance,” the employee said. “This divided us. Everyone for the most part is doing our best to heal and continue to work together for the greater good but there are still times when it’s challenging.”

Another former employee recalled witnessing Carson “lie” about the allegations to a group of 20 people the day Loijens resigned.

“That memory is indelibly burned in my mind,” the employee said. “I think in many cases he was aware of issues and he turned a blind eye. In some cases he was an instigator.”

After his fall from grace, Carson spent the year traveling around the world, posting pictures on his Twitter account from destinations such as Buenos Aires, Australia, Chile and New Zealand.

Dannelly and others say they’re surprised Carson landed a job in Hollywood, which largely drove the #MeToo movement into the national spotlight.

“I just can’t believe it,” Dannelly said. “Well, look at Trump – how did he get into office after everything that came out about him? It seems to me the powerful men can get away with anything they want. I have no faith in the system and people need to start believing women.

“Ten years of employees complaining about something – and for the Lucas organization to ignore that says a lot about them, and their character,” she said.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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