I guess by now you’ve heard that Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO Wayne Pacelle has resigned after having been accused of sexual harassment.
Several years ago I complained that even though animal welfare is an issue overwhelmingly supported by women, it’s men who run the show. And now here we are, watching and wondering if HSUS can survive after its board chose to support a male CEO over the welfare of animals.
What? Too much? I think not.
The Washington Post reported that women had complained for years and were ignored, or, even worse, demoted or fired.
Last November Rachel Perman, Tofurkey’s director of charitable giving, emailed each of the 31 board members and informed them she had been made aware of allegations of systemic sexual harassment at HSUS. Only board member Erika Brunson responded, and her response wasn’t pretty: “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you have anything better to do in life than air your repressed sexual fantasies in public?” Yes, a board member wrote that to a corporate donor.
At a December 4th staff meeting Pacelle said he wanted to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. Then on January 25th the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Pacelle was under investigation by a law firm hired by the non-profit’s board of directors.
Last Thursday we learned the board of directors voted to retain Pacelle despite the complaints against him, and voted to offer settlements to women who claimed to have been demoted or fired for making complaints. Seven board members who disagreed with the decision resigned.
In a Friday morning article, Pacelle reportedly blamed animal agriculture activists for making false complaints against him, and board member Brunson, when interviewed by the New York Times, said Pacelle had “done nothing wrong,” and “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody?” She later resigned as well.
And in this weekend’s Washington Post, conservative opinion writer Kathleen Parker wrote a piece in defense of Pacelle, saying the #MeToo movement had gone too far and was turning into a witch hunt.
By the end of the day Friday HSUS saw the writing on the wall. Major donors said publicly they could no longer support HSUS and at least one of their lobbyist firms stated they would not renew their contract. Pacelle submitted his resignation effective immediately,
For now Kitty Block, president of Human Society International, is acting President and Chief Executive of HSUS.
But the damage has been done. The organization is divided and weak, a sitting duck for Humane Watch (who’s running an ad against HSUS during the Super Bowl) and other fake non-profits to swoop in and wage a campaign to destroy the group. People will hesitate to donate because they want their money to go toward the welfare of animals, not to pay off victims of sexual harassment.
The worst part is this is all so unnecessary. If only this multi-million dollar organization had a truly independent and transparent board of directors (as is recommended), these complaints would have been investigated when they were first made and not sat on until after their donor base became aware of them. How many animals will suffer needlessly because the organization that was SUPPOSED to help them was too busy focusing on its own drama?
And why, once again, are we reluctant to believe that a man we like could be abusive toward women?
What are your thoughts about the Pacelle scandal?