On Friday afternoon the Washington Post published a new report finding that the workplace is still toxic at the Humane Society of the United States. The story raises a number of questions about the lack of credibility of the organization’s leadership, and also provides a few new anecdotes about the former CEO Wayne Pacelle, who resigned in disgrace last month after an investigation into him, which was leaked to the Post, found numerous instances of alleged sexual harassment in addition to financial settlements and charges that HSUS refuses to disclose. In short, a sex-infused hostile work environment.
According to the Post, it wasn’t just Pacelle who was rotten in upper management. COO Mike Markarian once allegedly told a female that her job was to “protect Wayne” when she brought up allegations of impropriety. Who else knew about Pacelle’s behavior ? The list in upper management surely is long.
And then there’s the question of how much donor money went to “Predator” Pacelle in his CEO severance package, and how much donor money went to pay settlements to victims of his retaliation. (Generally, severance is not paid to people who quit.)
Interestingly, several people leaked HSUS’s internal talking points on the Washington Post article. Keep in mind these talking points come from board and staff leadership who are very uncomfortable with the question, “Who knew what, when?”
In the leaked talking points, HSUS dodges this very question about settlement money, saying: “Like many employers, when we offer payments to employees who are leaving or whose positions are eliminated, they are often accompanied by non-disclosure agreements specifically intended for positions dealing with confidential information such as donor data, which is also customary for many employers. Nearly eighty percent of contributions to The HSUS and its affiliates are spent on programs…”
The dodge isn’t even subtle. So it’s a good bet that HSUS doesn’t want people to know the number. And how can they wrap justification for this severance package in with people who may have lost a job due to downsizing?
HSUS also offers to potentially release former employees from NDAs. But one ex-employee posted on Facebook that HSUS would not let her out of her NDA with the organization just a couple of weeks ago. So it’s an empty gesture.
There also seems to be some historical revisionism at work. In the talking points, HSUS claims (for the first time we’ve seen) that board chair Eric Bernthal asked Pacelle to resign on Feb. 2 after new information emerged. Yet just that very day the board chair was defending the board’s vote the previous night to retain Pacelle. In one internal email, the chair even complained that the process had been a “great unfairness” to Pacelle.
And lastly, HSUS also attempts to explain away the BBB revoking its accreditation of HSUS, and of Charity Navigator’s reduction of HSUS’s rating to 2 stars (out of 4). HSUS says it has “long” taken issue with Charity Navigator’s rating system. Yet HSUS featured Charity Navigator’s previous ratings in its staff email signatures—when the ratings were better, that is.
Read the whole WaPo piece if you have a moment. But it seems clear to us that HSUS leadership has not changed. They’re still engaging in the same intellectually dishonest talking points, donor scams, and media games that they were doing under Pacelle.