February 2, 2018; New York Times
As we watch one nonprofit board after another struggle with complaints about sexual harassment and abuse by senior staff that have gone public, it occurs to us that some may need a refresher course in maintaining a work environment that’s fair to women.
One of the newest examples is at the board of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which reportedly lost seven board members of 31 yesterday in protest over its decision to retain Wayne Pacelle as CEO. Pacelle is accused of sexual harassment. Though he has denied any wrongdoing, women who are senior leaders at the nonprofit claim they gave warnings about workplace misconduct at HSUS but went unheard. Yesterday, we published a newswire about donor responses to the charges.
In an interview late Thursday with the New York Times, Erika Brunson, a board member, confirmed Pacelle had been retained, saying also that she was aware only of what she called a “ridiculous” old accusation against him.
“The CEO stays, and rightfully so,” she said. “We’re not an association that investigates sexual harassment. We raise funds for animals.”
Brunson has also been quoted as saying in an interview, “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody? Women should be able to take care of themselves. We’d have no CEOs and no executives of American companies if none of them had affairs. It’s nonsense.”
Jennifer Fearing, who was California’s senior state director for the Humane Society for eight years and had served as a lobbyist under contract since 2014, has refused to renew her role because of the board’s reported decision.
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After almost 12 years with HSUS, my contract expired last night. They sent me a new one this morning but I will not renew until there is a complete leadership change. https://t.co/lGMVx8njdE
— Jennifer Fearing (@JenniferFearing) February 1, 2018
“Closing the investigation feels like a betrayal of trust,” Ms. Fearing said in an email. “I stand with the board members who resigned and will not renew my relationship with the HSUS until there is a complete leadership change.”—Ruth McCambridge
Author’s note: NPQ has received a number of communications on this situation that appear odd. These have not been used in this report, but one of the sources on an announcement of an anti-HSUS Super Bowl ad was the Center for Consumer Freedom, formerly called the Guest Choice Network, which is described by SourceWatch at the Center for Media and Democracy as a “front group run by Rick Berman’s PR firm Berman & Co., originally primarily for the benefit of restaurant, alcohol, tobacco and other industries. It runs media campaigns that oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, animal advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them ‘the Nanny Culture—the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who ‘know what’s best for you.’”
NPQ has written plenty about Berman over the years, including noting that an advisory had been issued by Charity Navigator on his so-called charities. Thus, on this story about HSUS, it is important to note the sources of information very carefully.—Ruth McCambridge