The Human Rights Campaign has fired Alphonso David, who had been the organization’s president since 2019 and was being widely criticized for helping former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual harassment accusations.
Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, chairs of the HRC board and HRC Foundation board, respectively, announced the move on Twitter Monday night. It followed 24 hours of back-and-forth. David released a statement Sunday night saying he had been asked to resign even though an investigation of the Cuomo matter found no wrongdoing on his part. The chairs disputed this in an email leaked to the media Monday morning, and David responded with another statement defending his position. He has now responded to his firing by saying, “Expect a legal challenge.”
In their Monday night statement, the chairs said the investigation, by the law firm of Sidley Austin, had been completed, and the boards had terminated David for cause, immediately, for violations of his contract with HRC.
Statement from Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, Human Rights Campaign and Foundation Board Chairs pic.twitter.com/mxUGEFSstn
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) September 7, 2021
Cox and Patterson said his Sunday night statement contained “significant untruths” and that the Sidley Austin investigation found that his work for Cuomo violated HRC’s policy on conflict of interest. Sources told The New York Times the decision to fire David was unanimous, except for two abstentions from members of the foundation board.
After the accusations against Cuomo emerged last December, the governor’s office tapped David, who had been Cuomo’s in-house counsel before joining HRC, to assist in the response. David provided a memo about a meeting with one of the accusers, Lindsey Boylan, about an unrelated matter when she was a state employee (David has said he was legally obligated to provide it), and sought signatures for a letter that defended Cuomo and cast doubt on Boylan. He had refused to sign it himself. The document was circulated as a potential letter to the editor or commentary piece but was never published, although it was shared with some journalists. David has said he did not know the extent of the accusations against Cuomo at the time.
David’s work for Cuomo became known after the New York State attorney general released a report last month, detailing the accusations and the governor’s response. The report found the accusations credible and said Cuomo had unlawfully retaliated against Boylan. Cuomo subsequently resigned as governor, and Kathy Hochul moved up from lieutenant governor to the governor’s office. A source who spoke to the Times said David did not inform the HRC boards or counsel of his involvement in the Cuomo response. David did call for Cuomo’s resignation when the attorney general’s report came out.
But David’s conduct has done “material damage” to HRC’s reputation, the chairs wrote in announcing his firing, and conflicted with its mission of fighting “racist, bigoted patriarchal systems.”
The board chairs also mentioned this in an email sent to HRC staffers Monday night and shared with The Advocate and other media. “Alphonso acted counter to HRC’s values, mission, policies, and how we believe accusers and survivors of sexual assault and harassment should be treated,” they said. The damage to the organization’s reputation, they said, was evident from the many staffers, volunteers, donors, and others who expressed “serious concern with Mr. David’s conduct and its inconsistency with the values and mission of HRC.”
David, who is Black, was the first person of color to lead HRC and the first civil rights lawyer to do so. Joni Madison, HRC’s chief operating officer and chief of staff, will be interim president while the boards search for David’s replacement.
Update from Alphonso David pic.twitter.com/PAtqcEwvBg
— Alphonso David (@AlphonsoDavid) September 7, 2021
In a tweet Monday night, David indicated he is not going gently. He said the chairs “lied about producing the report” from Sidley Austin and “tried to shut me up.” He also promised a legal challenge.
The Advocate has sought further comment from David and his representatives as well as from HRC. But a source did tell the Times there was no written report from Sidley Austin; instead “there were oral presentations to the board,” the paper reports.
The Cuomo scandal implicated another prominent LGBTQ+ activist as well. Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued the case at the Supreme Court that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, had reviewed the letter circulated by the governor’s office and pronounced it acceptable to publish with a few changes. Kaplan, well known for her work for women’s rights, subsequently resigned as board cochair at Time’s Up, which assists survivors of sexual harassment. Tina Tchen, Time’s Up president and CEO, has also resigned.
This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Pride Media.