Update: The board voted (after publication of this blog) to retain Pacelle. Seven (of 31) board members resigned.
Today, the Humane Society of the United States board is meeting to discuss how to deal with its CEO Wayne Pacelle, identified as being an alleged serial sexual harasser following an investigation by an outside law firm. (Nevermind that the “outside” law firm is an established vendor of HSUS and has a vested interest in helping them and Pacelle.) In an ethical and humane organization, there would be no doubt what to do: Fire him and anyone else complicit. But the HSUS board’s investigation seems rigged to produce a result where they can whitewash the harassment and give a slap on the wrist to the CEO. Here’s why.
According to a new Washington Post report, the investigation started December 20 and ended January 24. Yet the investigators only spoke with 33 people. Out of those 33, three apparently complained of sexual harassment and others said their warnings about Pacelle’s behavior went unheeded, while three other women were paid settlements after they were retaliated against for reporting Pacelle’s misbehavior.
That ought to be a red flag and prompt a wider investigation. Pacelle has had hundreds of people working for him over the 24 years he’s been at HSUS. Who knows how many more women feel victimized?
And shouldn’t the investigation look into whether any execs or board members knew, or should have known, about misdeeds?
Yet instead the investigation is closed, according to the Post, and we wouldn’t even know about it but for someone at HSUS leaking it to the press.
Look at it this way—if the investigation hadn’t leaked to the press, do you think the board would have proactively come out and talked about it?
The whole thing seems designed to be as opaque as possible and allow for yet another scandal to be swept under the rug. We can already see the PR spin: There was a “review” that found a “handful” of “isolated incidents” that occurred “in years past,” but “changes have been made” and “voices have been heard”—the passive voice will be used incessantly—and the board “cares.” Perhaps even Pacelle gets a “serious” reprimand, docking him of a few weeks’ pay. (Considering he bought his house for $1.1 million in cash, he’ll survive.) Yada, yada, yada.
It’s certainly possible we’re wrong and the board will say they’ve seen enough and simply fire him. Yet so far the board has been totally feckless—or worse, in the case of one victim-blaming board member. Despite having a (limited) investigation from a handpicked friendly law firm, the board hasn’t even suspended Pacelle. It has barely issued a public statement. Pacelle, meanwhile, has basically been calling the women liars, claiming he never, ever did anything wrong.
How could he? He’s Wayne Pacelle, infallible pope of the animal rights movement. But even the Catholic Church couldn’t cover up abuse forever.