After a holiday weekend spent defending his position as president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Alphonso David has been terminated with cause, the HRC board announced.
As The Root reported in August, David was one of several social justice leaders implicated in Attorney General Letitia James’ report on the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. David, former counsel to the now-disgraced politician, was accused of assisting in Cuomo’s defense against multiple accusers. Specifically, David was believed to have participated in efforts to discredit the claims of Cuomo’s first accuser, Lindsey Boylan.
As reported by the New York Times:
Despite no longer working there, Mr. David had a memo in his possession containing confidential information about Ms. Boylan’s employment history. He shared the memo with one of Mr. Cuomo’s communications advisers who were hoping to release details to reporters. Mr. David has maintained that he had an obligation as a lawyer to do so.”
Mr. David also suggested edits to a letter intended to malign Ms. Boylan that was being circulated among Mr. Cuomo and his aides, and said that he would collect signatures for it from former aides. He declined to sign it himself, however, and he later said that he did not know the extent of the allegations against Mr. Cuomo. He called for Mr. Cuomo’s resignation after the report came out.
A person familiar with the deliberations among the board of the Human Rights Campaign said that Mr. David never told the organization that he was helping to advise Mr. Cuomo when the accusations came to light. The person said Mr. David did not consult the group’s counsel, or tell them that he was going to be interviewed by Ms. James’s office.
As we reported on Monday, in the wake of an independent investigation launched by HRC that David subsequently criticized for its lack of transparency, he vehemently defended both his actions in the Cuomo investigation and his track record leading HRC. In a statement posted online Sunday, he wrote: “I was confident that the facts would speak for themselves: that I had a legal obligation to hand over a memo when the Governor’s office requested it, and that I in fact spoke out against the draft letter I was asked to sign.”
On Monday, David would publish a second statement calling out the organization he has led since 2019—the first Black person to do so at the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. However, the HRC board was pointedly more reticent—that is, until Monday night. As the holiday weekend came to a close, Human Rights Campaign and Foundation Board Chairs Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson issued their own statement refuting David’s allegations and announcing his firing as president of HRC for violations of his contract, shared with The Root and printed below in its entirety.
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. 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.
Yesterday and today, Mr. David released a statement that included significant untruths about the investigation and his status with the organization.
At HRC, we are fighting to bring full equality and liberation to LGBTQ+ people everywhere. That includes fighting on behalf of all victims of sexual harassment and assault. 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.
As a result of this conduct, material damage to HRC/HRCF’s interests, reputation and prospects has resulted or may be expected to result. Additionally, this conduct has created damage to Mr. David’s reputation significant enough to impair his ability to effectively serve as the public face and voice of HRC/HRCF. 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.
This is a painful moment in our movement. While the Board’s decision is not the outcome we had ever envisioned or hoped for in terms of Mr. David’s tenure with HRC, his actions have put us in an untenable position by violating HRC’s core values, policies and mission. Mr. David has a distinguished career as a civil rights attorney and advocate. We are grateful for his leadership over the last two years launching new initiatives to deepen HRC’s commitment to the trans community, expand HRC’s legal work and work in communities of color, and fight voter suppression across the country.
As we move forward, our work fighting for all LGBTQ+ People, especially the most marginalized people in our community, remains at our core. Our work is also grounded in a commitment to dismantle racist, bigoted patriarchal systems that continue to oppress and marginalize people on the basis of race, ethnicity, language, culture, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, and gender identity.
Joni Madison, the current Chief Operating Officer and Chief Staff of the HRC, will serve as Interim President, effective immediately, while the Boards engage in a search to fill the position. During this interim period, Jodie Patterson and Morgan Cox, as Chairs of the Boards and of the Executive Committees, will closely partner with Joni to provide assistance and support, including with outward-facing engagement with our members, volunteers, donors and supporters and other key stakeholders.
Additionally, an email from the board co-chairs was sent to HRC staff on Monday night following the vote, stating: “At no time did we—the board chairs—tell him that there was no indication of wrongdoing, nor did we tell him we wanted this handled ‘quietly,’” (h/t NY Times). “This decision was made by the full boards of both H.R.C. and H.R.C. Foundation because of Alphonso’s own actions in support of Governor Cuomo,” the email continued. “He alone bears responsibility for what he did and the consequences.”
In response, David issued yet another statement via social media late Monday night, calling his termination unjust and implying that it was retaliatory. “They lied about producing the report,” he claimed, adding: “Now that they are being called to task, they tried to shut me up.” Further indicating that this drama is far from over, David also warned HRC’s board to “expect a legal challenge.”