Human Rights Campaign’s first black leader sues, says he was fired because of his race

Former Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David filed a lawsuit against the organization on Thursday – arguing that the country’s largest advocacy group underpaid him and eventually fired him because of his race.

David, a black civil rights lawyer who led the organization for two years, alleges that the HRC fired him because he is black while claiming that the organization has a “deserved reputation for the unequal treatment of its non-white employees”.

The advocacy group fired David as chairman last September following a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James that revealed he helped former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo respond allegations of sexual misconduct.

In James’ investigative report that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and caused the governor’s resignation, David’s name appears about three dozen times. David served as legal counsel to Cuomo for several years.

In the 16-page lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York, David argues that the defense group “maintained discriminatory employment practices” and during contract negotiations with the HRC in 2021, board members HRC administration “acknowledged” that he was severely underpaid in comparison to his white predecessor “because of his race”.

David, who was the organisation’s first black president, also alleges that a ‘prominent’ white board member confronted him in front of other HRC staff after he gave a speech about race, saying “We all know you’re black, why do you keep telling us that?”

And after the summer 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd, Chris Speron, a senior executive, chastised David for issuing a statement on behalf of the HRC in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the lawsuit. David alleges that Speron has also expressed concerns about the “alienation” of white donors, particularly “white gay people”.

Additionally, David’s lawsuit says the same senior executive also “expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of ​​hiring a black-owned consulting firm.”

“He criticized a black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” according to the lawsuit.

At the same event where the board member slammed David for giving a speech about race, HRC board co-chair Jodie Patterson expressed concern to a guest that the organization “wasn’t ready for a black president”.

The lawsuit adds that after sitting down with outside investigators examining HRC’s connection to Cuomo’s allegations and answering their questions, David was contacted one evening by HRC’s board co-chairs over the weekend. end of Labor Day telling him to resign by 8 a.m. the next day or he would be “fired for cause”.

HRC Acting President Joni Madison said in a statement responding to the lawsuit that the organization was “disappointed” that David had decided to “retaliate” against the organization “for his dismissal which resulted from his own actions”.

“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths. We are confident that throughout the legal proceedings it will be evident that Mr. David’s dismissal was based on clear breaches of his contract and the mission of HRC, and as president of the HRC he was treated fairly and equally,” Madison said.

“Notably, some of the people he accuses of discriminatory behavior are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance when Mr. David led the organization,” she adds.

David’s lawsuit comes as scores of other high-profile people have resigned or been fired by organizations over their ties to Cuomo.

In August, feminist group Time’s Up’s board chairwoman Roberta Kaplan resigned after James’ report revealed she advised Cuomo’s administration after initial sexual harassment allegations against him.

Weeks later, the group’s CEO, Tina Tchen, resigned after text messages published by The Washington Post revealed she had canceled a plan to make a statement in support of Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan. News reports alleged that Ch’en and Kaplan gave their opinion on an unpublished opinion column smearing Boylan.

Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the governor’s younger brother, was fired from the cable news network in December after the investigation detailed his role in helping his brother fight the allegations.

And on Wednesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned after reporting to the network’s external Chris Cuomo investigation that he had a consensual and romantic relationship with CNN chief marketing officer Allison Gollust, who reported to Zucker.

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