Steinhardt is the retired founder of Steinhardt Partners, a hedge fund firm he closed in 1995 after running it for 28 years. He currently serves as chairman of WisdomTree, a provider of exchange-traded funds.
The Times and ProPublica reported that Steinhardt, a prominent philanthropist primarily focused on Jewish causes, had made inappropriate remarks to women employed by the charities that he supports, allegedly including making requests for sex. The report cited interviews with six women, as well as two sexual harassment lawsuits that were filed against the former hedge fund manager in 2012 and 2013. Both lawsuits were “resolved amicably with confidentiality agreements,” the claimants’ lawyer said in Thursday’s article.
According to the report, Hillel International, a Jewish college outreach organization, last year hired a law firm to conduct an investigation into the behavior of Steinhardt, a major donor. The Times and ProPublica reported that the investigation had concluded that Steinhardt had sexually harassed two employees in separate incidents.
The findings of the Hillel investigation were communicated to the organization’s staff in an internal memo that was first reported on in January by the New York Jewish Week, a community newspaper.
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A spokesperson for WisdomTree said the firm was closely monitoring the situation and would “take appropriate actions as we see fit.”
In a statement published online, representatives for the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and the Steinhardt Family Foundation in Israel claimed the New York Times and ProPublica report went “out of its way to leave the false impression that Michael propositioned a handful of women,” adding that “he, of course, did no such thing.” The statement was signed by foundation vice-chair Sara Bloom, trustee David Steinhardt, chief executive Rabbi David Gedzelman of the Jewish Life foundation, and executive director Tova Dorfman of the Israel foundation.
“Michael’s sense of humor can be insensitive, and he has apologized for the unintended bad feelings his remarks have caused,” they said in the statement. “To characterize provocative remarks made in jest and in group settings as actually propositions intentionally distorts the context as well as Michael’s intent.”
Both the Times-ProPublica report and the statement from the Steinhardt Foundation explicitly stated that Steinhardt had not been accused of touching anyone inappropriately. However, the Times and ProPublica reported that women “felt pressured to endure demeaning sexual comments and requests out of fear that complaining could damage their organizations or derail their careers.”
In the statement published by the foundation, Steinhardt said he deeply regretted “cavalierly making comments in professional settings that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb.”
“I unequivocally meant them in jest,” he said. “I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry. I never intended to cause any embarrassment, discomfort, or pain.”
The foundation representatives said in the statement that they were evaluating legal action over the Times-ProPublica report, which they described as “intentionally defamatory.”