The Human Rights Campaign and its former president, Alphonso David, have reached a settlement in his discrimination lawsuit against the organization.
“The Human Rights Campaign, Inc. and The Human Rights Campaign Foundation (collectively, ‘HRC’) and Alphonso David (‘Mr. David’) have chosen to amicably resolve Mr. David’s lawsuit against HRC,” says a joint statement posted on HRC’s website Wednesday. “HRC and Mr. David share the mission of advancing human rights for all LGBTQ+ people and realizing a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. Mr. David and HRC agree it is in their mutual best interests, and the interests of the communities that they serve, to put this matter behind them. The terms of the settlement are confidential.”
The lawsuit and the circumstances surrounding it rocked the venerable LGBTQ+ group. David was fired in September 2021 after it was revealed he had advised his previous employer, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on responding to sexual harassment accusations.
David was Cuomo’s in-house counsel before joining HRC in 2019, and the governor's office tapped him for information and advice after the accusations surfaced in December 2020. The New York State attorney general released a report in August 2021, finding the accusations credible, and Cuomo subsequently resigned, with Kathy Hochul, formerly lieutenant governor, moving up to the governor's office.
David maintained he did nothing wrong, but the chairs of HRC’s and the HRC Foundation’s boards said his conduct had done "material damage" to HRC's reputation and conflicted with its mission of fighting "racist, bigoted patriarchal systems."
David countered by saying HRC had a "racist, biased culture." In his lawsuit, he claimed that HRC board members told him he had been paid less at the beginning because he was Black, and that a board member urged him to stop mentioning his race in public comments — including removing the fact that David was HRC's first Black president.
"HRC underpaid David, and then terminated him, because he is Black," the complaint stated.
Some other former employees of HRC also alleged there was a culture of racism at the organization. HRC responded that David’s suit was “riddled with untruths” and said the group was committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A 2015 report had found that HRC’s culture favored gay white men, and the organization has made great strides in changing that, HRC Board Chair Joni Madison said last year.
Madison served as HRC’s interim president during a search for David’s successor. Kelley Robinson, a Black queer woman, was named HRC president last fall. She said at the time that she preferred to focus on the work HRC has done rather than the David controversy. "HRC is an incredible organization, and the work they've done speaks for itself," she said. "I wouldn't be able to be in the position I'm in without HRC. ... I'm entering this role with a deep commitment to leading with equity [and to] building an organization that is as inclusive as the people we're fighting for."
David was not available for comment about the settlement, but a friend of his told The Advocate, “Alphonso has spent his career fighting for marginalized communities, and it didn’t come naturally to him to take on this fight for himself, but it’s rewarding that it’s turned out this way.”
Former HRC employee Richard Brookshire also spoke to The Advocate, saying, “This settlement is a vindication of someone who’s committed their life to the service of others.” Brookshire, a Black man, was HRC's deputy director of communications for politics for a brief period. He said he felt David was invested in the people he brought on, but he did not see that same investment from others. He had told The Advocate previously that he saw a culture of "passive racism" at the organization. Now he says he hopes the settlement indicates HRC is making progress in addressing that. He is now with the Black Veterans Project, of which he is cofounder and CEO.
The Advocate has sought comment from HRC and will update this story as further information becomes available.
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