On Thursday, the board of the Humane Society will determine the fate of chief executive Wayne Pacelle, who has been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. He has been allowed to maintain his position throughout the investigation, which has disturbed donors and personnel.
The Washington Post reports that Pacelle’s case was examined by a team of lawyers hired externally by the Humane Society from December 26 to January 24. They concluded that there was a perception at the organization that women who engaged in sexual relationships with Pacelle had a career advantage, and identified three women with specific complaints about his behavior:
The investigators, who interviewed 33 witnesses, identified complaints from a former intern who said Pacelle had kissed her against her will in 2005, a former employee who said he asked to masturbate in front of her in 2006 and a former employee who said he stopped by her office late one night in 2012 and asked her to salsa dance with him.
A memo describing the investigation indicated that there have been general complaints about Pacelle for years, and, according to senior female leaders, they all went ignored. Three former employees were offered settlements after claiming they’d been demoted or dismissed for reporting Pacelle.
Donors who care about the humane treatment of animals seem fairly disgusted that their money is potentially going to cover the tracks of someone who can’t treat humans well:
“I want the money that I donate to go toward helping animals,” said Rachel Perman, director of charitable giving and engagement at Tofurky, which makes a vegetarian turkey product.
She said her firm had donated $30,000 to the Humane Society over the past two years. “I don’t want to be paying to cover up someone’s sexual harassment.”
Many have announced their intention to withdraw as supporters of the organization if Pacelle isn’t fired, and at least on member of the editorial board of Animal Sentience (a Humane Society Publication) has stepped down in protest.
Pacelle has been working for HS since 2004. He denies all the accusations and seems to believe they’re a conspiracy.
“This is a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization,” he told The Post. “I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward.”
Update Friday 2 pm:
The New York Times reports that Pacelle was allowed to keep his job on Thursday, at the conclusion of the investigation against him. In response, seven board members resigned. Pacelle is now saying he is considering his employment at the Humane Society, as it may be difficult to continue there. He still denies all the allegations, but states he supports women coming forward.
Part of that may be an effort to distance himself from one board member who has not resigned, 83-year-old Erika Brunson, who has raised some eyebrows with her comments on the investigation:
“The C.E.O. stays, and rightfully so,” she said. “We’re not an association that investigates sexual harassment. We raise funds for animals.”
She said Mr. Pacelle had “done nothing wrong,” adding, “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody? Women should be able to take care of themselves.”
She added, “We’d have no C.E.O.s and no executives of American companies if none of them had affairs. It’s nonsense.”
That’s actually a pretty compelling argument for investigations, though likely not her meaning. Pacelle indicated he may leave anyway, saying, ““I think leadership changes at organizations are often very healthy and renewing, and I’m going to talk with staff and board members and find the best course that contributes to our mission of fighting for all animals.”
But Pacelle’s departure likely won’t take the Humane Society out of the hot seat. The organization is being criticized for its handling of the case, and they also recently had to oust a former senior official named Paul Shapiro for sexual harassment, according to Politico. Shapiro allegedly drove five staffers from the company from 2015-2017, and initial complaints about his behavior only led to him being moved to a different position at the organization. He was not let go until earlier in January.