Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David was fired on September 6 following an investigation into his role in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report on former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to James’ report, David worked with the former governor’s team in response to multiple accusations of sexual harassment against the former governor. David, who previously served as Cuomo’s top counsel, allegedly provided the former governor’s team with an accuser’s personnel file, engaged in discussions to secretly record a different accuser, and “actively consulted” with Cuomo following the allegations, the attorney general’s report stated.
Following the release of that report — which led to Cuomo’s resignation — HRC hired Sidley Austin LLP to spearhead the probe against David and “shed light on the events that unfolded and guide the boards on the necessary next steps.”
The board chairs of HRC and its foundation announced David’s firing late in the evening on Labor Day, concluding a dramatic weekend during which David and HRC’s board co-chairs feuded in a series of back-and-forth statements.
“Last month, the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation boards of directors announced a board-led investigation into Alphonso David’s actions related to the New York Attorney General’s report regarding the allegations of sexual harassment by former Governor Andrew Cuomo,” HRC board co-chairs Jodie Patterson and Morgan Cox said in a written statement. “This investigation was conducted through the executive committees of the boards, constituted of their independent directors, with the assistance of Sidley Austin. Following the completion of that investigation, the HRC and HRC Foundation boards of directors have voted to terminate Mr. David for cause, effective immediately, for violations of his contract with the Human Rights Campaign.”
The announcement continued, “As outlined in the New York Attorney General report, Mr. David engaged in a number of activities in December 2020, while HRC president, to assist Governor Cuomo’s team in responding to allegations by Ms. Boylan of sexual harassment. This conduct in assisting Governor Cuomo’s team, while president of HRC, was in violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy and the mission of HRC.”
Cox and Patterson said David’s conduct led to — or is expected to lead to — “material damage” to the organization’s “interests, reputation, and prospects,” and that David’s reputation was damaged significantly enough to “impair his ability to effectively serve as the public face and voice” of HRC and its foundation.
“This damage is evidenced by the intense media surrounding this conduct as well as the hundreds of calls, emails and other negative communications HRC has received from staff, members of the Board of Governors, volunteers, program partners, general members, supporters, corporate partners, political figures, and more expressing serious concern with Mr. David’s conduct and its inconsistency with the values and mission of HRC,” Cox and Patterson said.
The weekend of developments leading up to the termination featured a series of defiant public statements issued by David — and some out LGBTQ leaders published social media posts defending him, including former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
David said he was asked to resign, but refused to do so, and he ripped what he described as a lack of transparency in the investigation. He said the co-chairs of HRC’s board told him that the results of the probe would not be shared with him and that he was asked to resign because co-chairs “feel the incident has been a distraction” for the organization.
He added that “the review period has been completed, and there is no indication of wrongdoing on my part,” which prompted HRC to fire back in an email to the organization’s staff.
The email, obtained by the Washington Blade, said the co-chairs were “very surprised and disappointed by the inaccuracies in his portrayal of events.” The co-chairs said David was offered an opportunity to “discuss in good faith a separation from HRC, and his lawyers began that discussion on his behalf. Mr. David’s email yesterday is unfortunate given his mischaracterizations, including the assertion that there was ‘no indication of wrongdoing’ on his part.”
In a subsequent statement, David denied that his lawyers were involved in discussions about separating from HRC, saying that assertion was “simply not true.”
“They contacted my lawyers, and neither my lawyers nor I ever suggested at any point that I would even consider stepping down,” he said. “Our simple and repeated demand was that they share the Sidley Austin report.”
Following the termination announcement late on Labor Day, David tweeted out a public statement via Twitter accusing the board co-chairs of hiding “in darkness” — and he vowed to put up a legal fight.
“They unjustly provided notice of termination to me in order to end my fight for the integrity of the review process and for what is right,” David wrote. “I asked for the report, they refused. They lied about producing the report. Now that they are being called to task, they tried to shut me up. As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up. Expect a legal challenge.”
Joni Madison, HRC’s chief operating officer, is taking over as interim president of the organization while the boards search for a new leader. Patterson and Cox will work closely with Madison “to provide assistance and support, including with outward facing engagement with our members, volunteers, donors and supporters and other key stakeholders,” HRC said in a written statement.
David, HRC’s first Black leader, took over as president in June of 2019 following a four-year stint as Cuomo’s top counsel. Prior to that, he worked for Cuomo dating back to his time as attorney general after working as a staff attorney at Lambda Legal and then as deputy commissioner and special counsel to the New York State Division of Human Rights.