Several former employees of biotech hedge fund OrbiMed have alleged that Sam Isaly, the firm’s founder & managing partner, sexually harassed his female colleagues for years, according to an investigation by STAT.
Isaly is a 72-year-old investor who has long been revered among the biotech community for his ability to pick stocks. But at OrbiMed, former employees told STAT he routinely demeaned women and harassed them. One woman told the news outlet that he repeatedly showed her hardcore pornography just to laugh as she reacted in disgust.
“I’m scarred,” Isaly’s former assistant, Delilah Burke told STAT. “I still have anxiety from that job — now, years later.”
Of the five people coming forward to accuse the investing giant of sexual harassment, four of them said they repeatedly complained about Isaly’s behavior to OrbiMed executives, who expressed sympathy but did not pursue any course of action. Since STAT”s report was published yesterday, OrbiMed has released a statement saying they have hired an independent law firm to investigate the matter.
Four of the five former OrbiMed employees spoke to STAT on the condition of anonymity, citing non-disclosure agreements and a fear of retaliation from Isaly. Burke reportedly received a printed copy of her non-disclosure agreement last week with a letter reminding her of what she signed.
None of the people who spoke to STAT alleged that Isaly touched them in a sexual way. Instead, he promoted and took part in a toxic culture of sexually-charged jokes that made some of his female colleagues uncomfortable, the former employees said.
The firm brushed off some of the allegations, including one that Isaly kept a set of breast implants on his desk and would touch them during conversations with employees. Those devices, OrbiMed said, were keepsakes from the firm’s investment in the medtech company that makes the implants.
The biotech investment firm includes 50 partners and investment professionals, according to OrbiMed’s website, and 47 of them are men. The company’s head of human resources, Kirsten Kearns, told STAT that OrbiMed’s workforce is 30% women.
As managing partner, Isaly has significant authority at OrbiMed and up until five years ago, the company had no HR department and no sexual harassment policy.
In August of 2010, Isaly allegedly summoned Burke into his office and asked her to get a file from his briefcase. She opened the briefcase only to find a flesh-colored vibrator, Burke told STAT. Isaly laughed at her reaction, but for Burke it was the last straw.
“The vibrator thing is when I quit,” Burke said. “It was just, ‘You’re disgusting. I’m leaving. This is it.'”
The accusations against Isaly come at a time when women across an array of industries are stepping forward to talk about experiences of sexual harassment and assault at work. OrbiMed partner Carter Neild reached out to STAT before the article about Isaly was published, urging the news organization to focus the story on Isaly instead of the firm itself.
“If this article proceeds I hope that you will be fair and focus on the person responsible, not the entire firm,” he wrote.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled Isaly’s last name. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.