Former Human Rights Campaign President Accuses Group of Racial Discrimination
The Black former president of the Human Rights Campaign is suing the organization he headed, accusing it of racial discrimination in its culture and its firing of him last year after two years as president.
The suit, filed by Alphonso David, the LGBTQ rights advocacy group’s first Black president, also accuses the HRC of underpaying David compared to his white predecessor on the job because he is Black.
The suit seeks punitive damages for alleged race discrimination, violation of equal pay and breach of contract and for causing emotional and mental distress, as well as damage to David’s reputation, career and future employment opportunities.
Before heading the HRC, David was a counsel to former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was accused of sexual harassment around the time of David’s negotiations for a contract renewal and then firing. After a report was issued accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment, David denied any wrongdoing.
HRC had an outside investigation conducted to examine whether David himself had done anything improper in relation to the Cuomo scandal. According to the complaint, HRC refused to disclose the findings of the investigation but told David he would be fired if he did not resign.
“Because David did not do anything wrong, and because HRC could not even articulate what it was accusing him of doing wrong, David refused to resign. In response, HRC then retaliated against David and terminated his employment purportedly “for cause,” depriving him of the benefits of the five-year contract the parties had just negotiated and executed,” the complaint says.
“HRC lacked any valid reason to terminate David for cause. HRC’s decision to terminate David for cause—and deny him contractual notice and severance benefits—was motivated by the same discriminatory animus that resulted in HRC paying him less for filling the same position as his white predecessor,” the complaint continues.
In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, HRC said David took actions to assist Cuomo’s team in the handling of the sexual harassment charges and those actions were in conflict with his responsibilities as HRC president. HRC did not explain what those alleged actions were.
According to David’s complaint, the treatment he received “differed markedly” from how his white predecessor, Chad Griffin, had been treated despite what the complaint refers to as “several scandals and reputational challenges” that concerned mistreatment of Black and transgender people.
According to David’s complaint, one report unearthed during Griffin’s tenure raised concerns that HRC had “an organizational culture rooted in a white, masculine orientation which is judgmental of all those who don’t fit that mold.” Specifically, many employees reported that HRC was a “white man’s club, the complaint says.
David cites other instances where he says racial discrimination was evident, including one where he was criticized by a board member for a speech he gave on “race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission.”
Another time a board member expressed concerns to a guest that the organization was not ready for a Black president, the complaint says.
During the negotiations for his new contract, David alleges a board member admitted to him that HRC had paid him less than his predecessor for performing the same work and that the pay discrepancy was because of David’s race.
HRC issued a statement saying it is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions, while serving as the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) president, to assist former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team in responding to allegations of sexual harassment against former Governor Cuomo.”
The HRC added, “Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths. We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”
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