The Human Rights Campaign has filed a legal response to the racial discrimination lawsuit by its former president, Alphonso David, saying he was fired for "legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons having absolutely nothing to do with race."
David, who was HRC's first Black president, was let go last year after it became known that he had advised then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on response to sexual harassment accusations against Cuomo. David had been the governor's in-house counsel before joining HRC. An investigation by New York's attorney general's office found at least some of the accusations credible and revealed David's assistance. Cuomo subsequently resigned as governor.
David filed suit in February in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. "David's treatment, including his summary termination, differed markedly from how his white predecessor [Chad Griffin] had been treated," the suit states. "During the tenure of David's predecessor, HRC had endured repeated, serious, scandals -- many of which involved HRC's mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals. Nonetheless, HRC took no action against David's predecessor let alone terminate him suddenly, 'for cause.' HRC underpaid David, and then terminated him, because he is Black." The suit further contends that HRC was less than transparent about its internal investigation into David's conduct and its reasons for terminating him.
David maintained in the suit that he "did not believe he had done anything wrong" in assisting Cuomo and has said some of the work involved providing legal documents he was obligated to turn over as the governor's former lawyer. The attorney general's report also noted that David had volunteered to seek signatures to a letter defending Cuomo and casting doubt on accuser Lindsay Boylan, although he did not sign it himself. David has said he did not know the extent of the accusations against Cuomo.
In the response, filed Monday, HRC and its foundation state, "The same diverse team of leaders who in July 2021 voted to award Mr. David a five-year contract extension (at the highest salary ever for an HRC executive) made the unanimous decision to terminate Mr. David's employment in September 2021. During those intervening weeks: (1) HRC learned of detailed revelations into Mr. David's stunning and improper actions documented in the New York Attorney General investigation; (2) Mr. David falsely assured HRC leadership that the Organization had nothing to worry about with regard to his involvement in the Governor Cuomo scandal before HRC had the opportunity to investigate the matter; and (3) HRC completed its investigation which again confirmed Mr. David's actions as outlined in the New York Attorney General's Cuomo report."
After HRC's internal investigation, which included assistance from the law firm of Sidley Austin, "HRC's Executive Committees unanimously agreed that Mr. David's conduct violated his employment contract and HRC policies, and was inconsistent with the Organization's values, beliefs, and mission," the response says. His work for Cuomo constituted a "conflict of interest between his personal interest and the interests of HRC and inconsistent with the mission of the Organization" and "damaged his reputation significantly enough to impair his ability to effectively serve as the public face and voice of HRC and [the Human Rights Campaign Foundation]."
David's suit seeks a jury trial and asks the court to declare that HRC and HRCF violated New York City and state antidiscrimination law as well as his employment contract, and to grant him compensatory and punitive damages. HRC's response asks the court to dismiss David's suit "in its entirety with prejudice" and to order him to cover the organization's costs.
An HRC spokesperson released this brief statement on the response: "Because we are in active litigation, we are unable to comment on or discuss specifics related to the suit beyond the public statement released by HRC in February." In that statement, HRC Interim President Joni Madison said, "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."
Replying to HRC's filing, David released this statement: "This response is yet another sign that HRC's leadership is out of touch with its organizational reality and woefully blind to the systemic inequities that continue to run rampant within it. At least four former employees within the past month, including me, have highlighted issues of systemic racism within the organization. Rather than address the problem, HRC once again attempts to erase it but they cannot run away from evidence that shows their true colors and I look forward to unveiling it."