Former Human Rights Campaign president sues over firing

Former Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David sued the organization on Thursday, arguing that the advocacy group fired him because of his race.

David, a Black civil rights lawyer, is alleging that the Human Rights Campaign terminated his employment in September “because he is black.” 

The HRC fired David in September after he was pulled into the sexual harassment scandal that rocked former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and led to his eventual resignation. David previously served as counsel to Cuomo for several years.

A report from state Attorney General Letitia James (D) released over the summer found that David provided Empire State aides with a confidential personnel file of a former Cuomo staffer after she publicly accused the governor of harassment.

Alphonso writes in his lawsuit that during negotiations for his contract renewal, which was completed in 2021, the HRC’s board acknowledged that it was underpaying him for the past two years “compared to his white predecessor because of his race.”

David, who is the first Black president in HRC history, also claims that HRC Senior Vice President of Development Chris Speron had urged him to stop mentioning his race in public. Speron was reportedly concerned about “‘alienating’ white donors and specifically “white gay men,” according to David.

Speron also reportedly told David to remove the fact that he was HRC’s first Black president from his bio.

Additionally, David is claiming that Speron “expressed displeasure about hiring a Black-owned consulting firm.”

“He criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” according to David.

David filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York.

HRC Interim President Joni Madison said the organization was “disappointed” that David had decided to “take retaliatory action” against the company “for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”

She said that following an investigation the board decided to terminate David for cause, noting that the former president’s actions in assisting Cuomo’s team “were, among other things, in violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy and the mission of HRC.”

Madison also said David’s lawsuit is “riddled with untruths.”

“We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally,” she added.

In the lawsuit, David claimed that, after cooperating with outside investigators probing HRC’s connection to the Cuomo scandal, he was contacted one evening by HRC’s Board co-chairs directing him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or else he would be “terminated for cause.”

Asked if the outside investigators had discovered information against him and if a report would be issued detailing what he was accused of doing wrong, he said the co-chairs were mum. As a result, David said he refused to resign, which led to HRC firing him from the top post.

The lawsuit says that series of events “differed markedly” from the treatment his predecessor received.

“David’s treatment, including his summary termination, differed markedly from how his white predecessor had been treated. During the tenure of David’s predecessor, HRC had  endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and  other marginalized individuals. Nonetheless, HRC took no action against David’s predecessor,  let alone terminate him suddenly, ‘for cause,’” the lawsuit reads.

“HRC underpaid David, and then terminated him, because he is Black,” the lawsuit adds.

— Updated at 4:46 p.m.

Tags Andrew Cuomo

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