Civil Rights attorney Alphonso David’s tenure as president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) came to an end Monday when organization chairs at HRC fired him amid an investigation into his connection to efforts to combat sexual harassment claims against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
HRC board chair Morgan Cox and HRC Foundation chair Jodie Patterson announced the decision late Monday evening, stating that David’s actions as outlined in New York attorney general Letitia James’ report “was in violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy and the mission of HRC.”
“This is a painful moment in our movement,” read the joint statement. ” While the Board’s decision is not the outcome we had ever envisioned or hoped for in terms of Mr. David’s tenure with HRC, his actions have put us in an untenable position by violating HRC’s core values, policies and mission.”
According to the New York Times, multiple sources stated that the vote was unanimous, with two HRC Foundation board members abstaining. Journalist Katelyn Burns reported that HRC staff weren’t made aware of David’s ousting prior to media reports announcing the move.
David called his termination “unjust” early Tuesday morning and appears ready to fight the decision in the courts. “As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up,” David said. “Expect a legal challenge.”
Back And Forth
Monday’s decision comes after a tumultuous 24 hours for David and HRC leadership. On Sunday, David stated that Cox and Patterson asked him to resign from his position despite the completed investigation, led by law firm Sidley Austin, finding “no indication of wrongdoing on my part.”
An email from Cox and Patterson sent to HRC staffers on Monday disputed David’s statement. The email said that the Sidley Austin investigation wasn’t completed yet and called his claim it absolved him a mischaracterization. ” We were very surprised and disappointed by the inaccuracies in his portrayal of events,” the message read. The email also confirmed that Cox and Patterson did ask David to resign.
A response from David quickly followed, claiming Cox and Patterson’s email was an “effort to confuse and distract us from the truth.” According to David, the board co-chairs told him Friday that the investigation was complete and “didn’t offer a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on my part” despite repeated requests.
David also stated that Cox and Patterson refused to provide a copy of the investigation’s findings to anyone, including himself. According to David, Cox and Patterson gave him a deadline of 8 AM Saturday morning to decide whether he would voluntarily resign. “Their refusal to offer up the findings, even with the indication that they found wrongdoing, and yet still urge me to consider resigning during a holiday weekend to avoid media interest, does disservice to any persons or organizations involved in the fight for civil and human rights, David said.”
AG Report Accusations
According to the AG report, much of David’s involvement in efforts by Cuomo’s office to discredit sexual harassment survivors centered on former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan. The report alleges that David provided Boylan’s confidential personnel file at the request of Cuomo staffers after Boylan went public with her accusations against Cuomo. David did so while holding the position of HRC president, taking the position after working as Cuomo’s chief legal counsel.
Information from the file provided by David was leaked to major media outlets in an effort to discredit Boylan, though it is unclear if David knew that would happen when asked for Boylan’s file. Boylan responded to David’s initial statement Sunday, highlighting inconsistencies in David’s claims. “Alphonso David questions the veracity of a report having never read it and yet is able to say it finds him innocent of any wrongdoing in helping to smear me when I spoke publicly about the abusive monster we both worked for over a period of years. What a time to be alive,” Boylan said.
The AG report also claimed David helped advise the crafting of an unpublished letter disputing claims of sexual harassment against Cuomo. Involvement in that advisement process led to famed LGBTQ rights lawyer Roberta Kaplan’s resignation as co-chair of Time’s Up in August. A number of other Time’s Up board members, including Eva Longoria, Jurnee Smollett and Shonda Rimes, have resigned from the organization’s board as it plans to introduce an entirely new leadership group in the wake of the Cuomo allegations.
Supporters of David have called into question the level of transparency in the distribution of the Sidley Austin investigation’s findings and how much David’s race impacted the HRC’s decision. David’s hiring in 2019 made him the first Black man to lead the organization and HRC’s work to address issues facing LGBTQ BIPOC communities has improved during his tenure. The board co-chairs decision to extend his contract by five years in August as his name emerged in the AG report supported such.
J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, HRC director of HIV and Health Equity, called for the release of the investigation’s findings while claiming that HRC has “struggled with addressing internal racism among staff” for decades. “It would be an affront for me, a Black gay man, to sit aside and watch while my brother in the struggle, Alphonso David, be railroaded and stripped of his dignity and livelihood,” McCants-Pearsall said Sunday.
Sidley Austin’s role as an independent investigator in the matter was also criticized due to the firm having a previous relationship with HRC. The firm became a prominent legal partner of the organization in October 2019.
Questions about the nature of how Sidley Austin’s report was delivered have also surfaced. A source told the New York Times that a written report outlining the firm’s findings was not produced. Instead, investigators communicated their conclusion in “oral presentations to the board.” This is likely why no copy of the report has been released publicly or privately.