HSUS: Protecting its Fox in the Hen House

In a stunning development, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) chose this week to stand by CEO Wayne Pacelle amidst complaints of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment by HSUS employees.  Twenty-eight of HSUS’s 31 board members participated in a 7 hour telephone conference on February 2nd that culminated in a vote of 17-9 in favor of retaining the beleagured CEO.  (Two members abstained.)  In protest of the decision, seven members of the HSUS Board immediately resigned.

Pacelle3 cartoonFollowing backlash from donors, HSUS employees, and the public, Pacelle announced his resignation the next day in an email. “I am resigning, effective immediately . . . to put aside any distractions, in the best interests of all parties,” he wrote.

The board vote and Pacelle’s subsequent resignation came at the conclusion of an allegedly independent investigation by the law firm of Morgan Lewis.  (Notably, HSUS board member and former Chair, Anita W. Coupe, was a partner in labor and employment with Morgan Lewis.)  The Morgan Lewis investigation lasted from late December until late January and 33 people were interviewed, including Pacelle.  According to multiple media sources, the investigation, whose findings were based on interviews, evidence provided by witnesses and emails on Pacelle’s work computer (FN1), the memo of findings reported that:

  • HSUS had settled three complaints from women after they were terminated or demoted after making sexual harassment claims against Pacelle (FN1);
  • Three additional women employees claimed they were subjected to Pacelle’s unwelcome advances toward them (FN1);
  • The nature of the claims included Pacelle seeking to masturbate in front of an employee, offering to perform oral sex on an employee and forcibly kissing an employee against her will, among others (FN1);
  • Senior women employees at HSUS stated that their warnings about Pacelle’s conduct in the work place were ignored (FN1).

In addition to the claims against Pacelle himself, multiple women complained of harassment from former HSUS Vice President of Policy, Paul Shapiro, who resigned in January, approximately one week after the investigation began.   One employee, Ashley Rinhehart, allegedly complained to Pacelle, her superior, after being repeatedly sexually harassed by Shapiro, and Pacelle, covering for his colleague, told her, “boys will be boys.” (FN2)

Following its decision to retain Pacelle as CEO, HSUS Chair, Rick Bernthal wrote, “we did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence.”  FN3.

“We are not an association that investigates sexual harassment…Which red blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody?”

~ Erika Brunson, HSUS Board Member

Board member, Erika Brunson, an interior designer, who participated in the 7 hour teleconference stated, “We’re not an association that investigates sexual harassment.”  FN4  She went on to add, “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody? Women should be able to take care of themselves.” FN5  (Brunson left the HSUS board in the wake of Pacelle’s resignation. FN3)

The HSUS board conference call has been described as “extremely dysfunctional.”   Although the investigators were not included to answer questions, Pacelle was given the floor for ten minutes to extol his own performance record within HSUS and to deny all wrongdoing.  Some board members were disturbed by the implication that Pacelle’s fundraising record was relevant to accusations of illegal workplace misconduct. FN3.

Bernthal’s claim that the allegations against Pacelle lacked “credible evidence” is simply not plausible.  HSUS has paid to settle three claims by women that they were wrongfully terminated for complaining of Pacelle’s sexual harassment.  To suggest that the mega non-profit paid to settle claims that lacked “credible evidence” is patently disingenuous.  In addition to its legal responsibilities, the board acts in a fiduciary role by maintaining oversight of the nonprofit’s finances.  Where was Bernthal’s oversight when HSUS was paying to settle sexual harassment claims that lacked “credible evidence”?

This comes in addition to the $15.75 million settlement HSUS paid along with two of its lawyers, and its affiliate, the Fund for Animals, along with other animal rights activists, as a multi-party settlement of a federal racketeering lawsuit to Feld Entertainment in 2014 that was not covered by insurance.  FN6.

How many millions of dollars of donations has HSUS paid out to settle lawsuits under Pacelle’s direction?

Kitty Block2Predictably, in the midst of the backlash against an institutional enviroment that appears pervasively hostile to women, HSUS has appointed Cristobel “Kitty” Block  as its acting CEO.  Block is currently President of Humane Society International (HSI), HSUS’s global wildlife charity.  Block came to HSUS from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) where she worked as an investigator.  (You can read more about PeTA here.)

While Block likely shares Pacelle’s views on animals and animal ownership, it is unlikely that she will share his unprecedented skill for fundraising.  Under Pacelle’s stewardship, HSUS has grown in the last decade from $160 million in assets to $210 million in assets (although unknown millions of dollars of donations have apparently gone to fund settlements for racketeering and for Pacelle’s sexual escapades).  It also remains to be seen how donors will react to HSUS’s persistent protection of what appears to be an extremely toxic work environment for women.

FN1  Paquette, Danielle (January 29, 2018). “Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle accused of sexual harassment by three women.” Retrieved February 3, 2018 – via http://www.chicagotribune.com.

FN2  Townsend, Karen (February 1, 2018).  “Let’s hope Humane Society treats animals better than women.” Retrieved February 3, 2018 – via http://www.hotair.com.

FN3  Paquette, Daneille (February 2, 2018). “Humane Society CEO resigns after sexual harassment allegations.”  Retrieved February 3, 3018 – via http://www.washingtonpost.com.

FN4  Okun, Gabrielle (February 2, 2018).  “Humane Society Does Not Investigate Sexual Harassment, Board Member Says.”  Retrieved February 4, 2018 – via http://www.dailycaller.com

FN5  Bosman, Julie et al. (February 2, 2018).  “Humane Society CEO resigns amid sexual harassment allegations.” Retrieved February 3, 2018 – via http://www.nytimes.com.

FN6  Humanewatch.  (May 16, 2014).  “HSUS denied insurance coverage in racketeering lawsuit.” Retrieved February 3, 2014 – via http://www.humanewatch.org.



US Senate Approves Gay Rights Bill

This afternoon, the United States Senate passed historic gay rights legislation in its approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide protections in the workplace to workers and job applicants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Any private employer with more than 15 employees would be precluded from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. However, an exemption is included for religious groups.

The measure adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that cannot be discriminated against in the workplace passed by a vote of 64-32 — a slightly stronger showing than an earlier vote to move forward on the legislation, which passed 61-30.

The bill, widely referred to as ENDA, was introduced with bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, ENDA is not expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, due to opposition to the measure voiced by Speaker John Boehner.

Same-Sex Marriage in Illinois

On February 8, 2012, Illinois Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell, Kelly M. Cassidy, and Ann Williams introduced an historic bill, House Bill 5170, entitled the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act (“HB 5170”).

HB5170 seeks to amend 750 ILCS 75/1 et seq., otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (the “Civil Union Act”), which became effective on June 1, 2011.  The Civil Union Act created a new form of legalized relationship in Illinois for which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples were eligible.

Illinois residents should support the passage of HB 5170 into law.  Opponents of same sex marriage argue that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples and that the creation of civil union creates a separate, but virtually equal unionization for same sex couples.  History and case law have demonstrated that there is no such thing as separate but equal.  In its holding that the segregation of school children based on race was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection clause, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

 Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. . .To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.

Brown v. Bd. of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kan., 347 U.S. 483, 493-94, 74 S. Ct. 686, 691, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954) supplemented sub nom. Brown v. Bd. of Educ. of Topeka, Kan., 349 U.S. 294, 75 S. Ct. 753, 99 L. Ed. 1083 (1955) (internal citations omitted).As I have written previously, there is no meaningful distinction between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on sexual orientation.  When equal protection can be denied to one group of people based on discrimination, all of our rights are in jeopardy.Illinois residents should applaud the representatives that introduced HB 5170 and should contact their own representatives and encourage them to support equal protection under the law.

The full text of HB 5170 can be reviewed here:  http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09700HB5170lv&SessionID=84&GA=97&DocTypeID=HB&DocNum=5170&print=true.

The full text of the Civil Union Act can be reviewed here:  http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3294&ChapterID=59.

Loving v. Virginia and Thoughts on Gay Marriage

In June 1958, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, married Richard Loving, a white man.  Although the newlyweds were residents of Virginia, they married in the District of Columbia because Virginia had a criminal statute that prohibited interracial marriages between a white person and a person of color in addition to a statutory provision that rendered all such marriages void under the law.

Upon their return to Virginia, the Lovings received a grand jury indictment to which they plead guilty and were each sentenced to one year in prison.  Their sentences were stayed upon the condition that they left the state of Virginia, never to return.  The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and in 1963, they filed a motion to vacate the trial court judgment and to set aside the sentences under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the antimiscegenation statutes and upheld the convictions.  The Lovings appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which forever changed history when it held as follows:

Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.  To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Loving v. Virginia
, 388 U.S. 1, 12, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 1824, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010 (1967) (Internal citations omitted).

Sadly, here we are in 2012, and same sex marriage is legal in only six states and the District of Columbia (as well as the Coquille Indian Tribe, and the Suquamish Indian Tribe).  There is no meaningful distinction between race discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In 1996, then President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which states in pertinent part that, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The arguments in favor of same sex marriage are overwhelming.  It is impermissibly discriminatory to allow religious dogma to deny legal rights that our Supreme Court has already held are “fundamental.”  It further seeks to impose religious tenets on all Americans in violation of our rights to reject them.

Allowing same sex marriage does nothing to undermine or diminish the value or sanctity of marriage between heterosexual couples.  To the contrary, establishing and promoting family bonds helps society.

Marriage is an institution that is not only a fundamental freedom on a personal level, it is also a societal institution that helps to strengthen communities, providing in-home caregivers to the infirm, providing family units to share financial obligations and income, and providing two parent households to support children.  These benefits to society are not dependent upon sexual orientation.

In addition, the legalization of same sex marriage would provide an economic boost to the economy. In 2004, a study (.pdf) conducted by the Congressional Budget Office found that if all 50 states and the federal government extended the rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples, gay weddings alone would generate almost $1 billion in revenue each year.

2011 Gallup poll suggests that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian.  Religious dogma and bigotry cannot be allowed to deprive 25% of Americans a fundamental freedom.    Those opposed to big government, intrusive government, should support gay marriage because the government has no place in the most personal  relationships of its citizens.  Individuals decide what their families look like and the state has no business interfering with the Due Process Rights and fundamental freedoms of consenting adults.

On this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to follow the Loving  decision and support same sex marriage.  When fundamental rights can be denied to one class of people based on discrimination, all of our rights are in jeopardy.