Glaxo fires Trump’s former vaccine czar on harassment claim

James Paton and Riley Griffin
Bloomberg

GlaxoSmithKline Plc fired former U.S. vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui as chairman of a company it controls after an internal investigation found he sexually harassed an employee several years ago.

An investigation of Slaoui’s conduct substantiated allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior and is ongoing, according to Glaxo, which is majority shareholder of the company, Galvani Bioelectronics.

Slaoui, who was chief scientific adviser to the U.S. Operation Warp Speed program during the Trump administration, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

President Donald Trump, left, listens as Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington.

At Warp Speed, the 61-year-old immunologist steered the deployment of Covid-19 vaccines and therapies, helping secure hundreds of millions of doses from a range of developers. Before that, he spent more than three decades working in the pharmaceutical industry, including as chairman of Glaxo’s research and development, and the head of its vaccine program.

“We knew nothing about this, and his behavior during Operation Warp Speed was impeccable,” said Paul Mango, a former senior Department of Health and Human Services aide under Trump who worked closely with Slaoui.

Slaoui joined the venture capital firm Medicxi as a partner after his retirement from Glaxo.

“Slaoui’s behaviors represent an abuse of his leadership position and violate our company policies, our values and our commitment to trust,” Emma Walmsley, Glaxo’s chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to employees. Walmsley vowed to protect the woman who had come forward, saying she had spent “many nights lately putting myself in her shoes.”

Shocked and Angry

“I am shocked and angry about all of this, but I’m resolute,” the CEO continued. “I want to be clear that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated. Abuse of leadership position, in any form, will not be tolerated.”

Glaxo said it immediately started its investigation, working with the law firm Morgan Lewis and partner Grace Speights, who’s experienced with cases involving workplace misconduct claims.

The termination follows the receipt of a letter in February containing allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct toward an employee of Glaxo, which occurred several years ago when Slaoui still worked there. Glaxo said it immediately started an investigation with a law firm, overseen by the board.

Swift Action

Slaoui, a Belgian-American scientist who now resides in Philadelphia, resigned from Operation Warp Speed at the request of the Biden administration. He has continued to opine on the global vaccine rollout on panels and in interviews however, and has advised European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. He was born in Morocco and holds a PhD in molecular biology and immunology.

Slaoui in February became chief scientific officer and adviser to Centessa Pharmaceuticals, a coalition of 10 closely held biotechnology subsidiaries launched by Medicxi. A representative for Centessa and Medicxi didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Another pharma industry giant recently took swift action over office conduct. The company, Eli Lilly & Co., said in February that financial chief Joshua Smiley had resigned and would leave after the drugmaker became aware he was involved in an inappropriate personal relationship with an employee. Smiley declined to comment at the time.

Companies became more apt to fire executives for inappropriate behavior after the #MeToo movement exposed years of inappropriate and sometimes illegal patterns of harassment. Most employment contracts now explicitly mention harassment as a justification for termination, and even consensual workplace relationships involving subordinates are viewed harshly.