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CEO of Planned Parenthood's northwest chapter fired after using racial slur

Chris Charbonneau was removed as CEO by the board of directors after staff lost confidence in her ability to lead, representatives of the nonprofit said.
Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands CEO Chris Charbonneau speaks at a news conference addressing a change in rules on the nearly 50-year-old Title X family planning program as Gov. Jay Inslee, left, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson look on, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Seattle.

Chris Charbonneau was removed as the CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest after allowing a donor to use a racial slur at a dinner and later repeating that racial slur twice to another staff member, according to representatives of the nonprofit.

Two senior staff members quit following an initial investigation, which did not recommend discipline, Planned Parenthood said, adding that she was ultimately removed because the staff had lost confidence in her as a leader.

Charbonneau was fired Dec. 5, according to the nonprofit. 

The Board of Directors named COO Rebecca Gibron as acting CEO while a nationwide search begins.

The events leading to Charbonneau's removal stem from a dinner in September when a donor used a racial slur to describe how women are treated in society, according to information from the  Planned Parenthood media team. The derogatory term was used during a direct conversation with Charbonneau, according to Planned Parenthood.

Charbonneau said she corrected the donor, but her description of the event is "in conflict with what members of our staff team reported and the findings of an investigation" that was overseen by a subset of the Board of Directors, according to Planned Parenthood.

The investigation found that Charbonneau responded by saying, “…that she thought she knew what the donor meant and continued a discussion regarding how women can be dehumanized in society…” Charbonneau did not correct the donor after the donor used the derogatory term, according to Planned Parenthood.

Additionally, Charbonneau allegedly repeated the racial slur twice to another staff member following the initial incident, according to Planned Parenthood. During that time, Charbonneau admitted not correcting the donor during the dinner, according to Planned Parenthood.

In a follow-up interview, Charbonneau said she did "not understand the harm that could be caused by using such a racially charged word," according to Planned Parenthood. The investigator recommended further education, instead of discipline. 

As a result of the lack of discipline, two senior staff members resigned, the organization said. It was through these resignations that the full board learned of the dinner in September.

Once the full board was aware, a subcommittee was formed to investigate further. During that investigation, additional concerns were raised around Charbonneau's management and a lack of confidence by staff in her ability to lead.

"To be clear, Ms. Charbonneau was removed because, lacking the insight and self-awareness to understand that using a racially derogatory word could be hurtful, staff lost confidence in her continued ability to lead an organization that both employs and serves a large contingent of people of color. She faced an irreconcilable crisis of leadership and the Board acted in the best interests of our organization and mission," a statement from Planned Parenthood reads.