The head of the Human Rights Campaign’s educational arm has resigned after a coworker reported that she used the n word.
Mary Beth Maxwell, head of the HRC Foundation, used the word in recounting “an upsetting personal story in which the term was used” and again “in describing an external situation that they found horrifying, in which racial and homophobic slurs were used,” according to an internal email from HRC president Chad Griffin, obtained and shared by Politico. The email did not name Maxwell, but it was later reported that she was the “senior staff member” in question.
Griffin said that Maxwell obviously did not have “bad intent” in using the word, but added that this did not matter. “Not having bad intent in using the word does not make it acceptable,” he wrote. “I want to be clear, intent does not matter. It is the impact of the word that matters. It is simply never acceptable for that word to be said by an employee in the workplace, period.”
Griffin suspended Maxwell without pay after receiving preliminary information about the incident Monday night, and after receiving the findings of a full investigation, he accepted her resignation Wednesday, Politico reports.
Maxwell, who had headed the foundation for three years, wrote a note to HRC’s chief of staff expressing “deep regret,” and it was then forwarded to all the organization’s employees and also to Politico. “While in each instance I was conveying something that really happened — in the first I was emotional and scared that it had been said and in the second feeling urgency about addressing a deeply racist and homophobic encounter that a colleague recounted — I should never have said that word out loud. Period,” she wrote.
“I fully respect and support HRC taking action to make clear that our commitment to a fair and just workplace is unwavering and that each of us must be held accountable for that,” Maxwell continued.
Maxwell joined HRC in 2015 as senior vice president for programs, research, and training, in addition to being head of its foundation, the Washington Blade reports. She previously worked in President Obama’s administration, holding various positions in the Department of Labor, including principal deputy assistant secretary for policy. In that post she helped draft Obama’s 2014 executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination by federal contractors, according to the Blade.
A “longtime HRC observer,” not identified by name, told Politico that Maxwell’s departure was “the right outcome.” “HRC has become an effective leader in the alliance of organizations fighting for racial justice,” the observer said. “This was the right outcome. An organization has to live the values it espouses.”
In his email to staff, Griffin stressed that “HRC must be a place where everyone feels empowered, respected, included and capable of bringing forward ideas and concerns alike.” He also noted, “We have made significant strides in building an infrastructure that has been driving progress on staff representation and programmatic work that incorporates a racial justice and inclusion lens. Our efforts must and will continue.” HRC is drafting a “formal policy on our expectations and requirements of staff when responding to or discussing hate speech,” and it will be implemented in the next two weeks, he said.
HRC confirmed the accuracy of the emails from Griffin and Maxwell but did not comment further, according to both Politico and the Blade.