Alphonso David, the civil rights attorney who once led the LGBTQ+-focused civil rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), has come to a settlement with his former employer.
David, the organization’s first Black president, was fired from HRC on Sept. 6, 2021, after reports surfaced that he had helped advise the then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to defend himself against charges that he had sexually assaulted several women.
The HRC got rid of David, claiming that his efforts on behalf of Cuomo hurt their image. But David countered that claim and brought a lawsuit against the organization. He claimed his firing was only the culmination of a long chain of racist actions HRC made toward him. David filed a racial discrimination lawsuit claiming the HRC had unjustifiably terminated his contract and that they had paid him less than the white man who had served as HRC’s president before him and therefore violated the New York Equal Pay Act.
Update from Alphonso David pic.twitter.com/PAtqcEwvBg— Alphonso David (@AlphonsoDavid) September 7, 2021
Prior to being named head of the HRC, David served as the in-house lawyer for Andrew Cuomo from 2015 to 2019. When New York Attorney General Letitia James published a review into the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, James’ report noted David’s counseling of the then-governor.
David had been leading the HRC since 2019 and the organization initially issued a statement declaring “full confidence” in its leader. But soon after, several staff members claimed that his guidance was detrimental to HRC’s image. “In a tense all-staff meeting …,” HuffPost reported, “employees at the Human Rights Campaign laid into Alphonso David for nearly an hour and a half––and asked him to resign several times.” The news site stated that, “Staffers on the call were given the option to submit questions anonymously, which allowed people to be blunt. Not a single person defended him.”
The hostility David appeared to face from staffers was cited to support his claim of an antagonistic culture toward him, other people of color, and transgender people who worked at the organization.
David contended in his lawsuit that his white predecessor, Chad Griffin, led the HRC at a time when the organization was becoming known as a “white man’s club,” where anti-Black rhetoric and discriminatory actions were common. His lawsuit cited a 2015 HRC internal survey which was written about in Buzzfeed News: “Leadership culture is experienced as homogenous –––gay, white, male… Exclusion was broad-based and hit all identity groups within HRC. A judgmental working environment, particularly concerning women and feminine-identified individuals, was highlighted in survey responses.”
In the aftermath of that self-critical survey, HRC has made efforts to change its internal culture. According to a February 2022 HRC companywide email––copies of which were obtained by the Amsterdam News––the organization now has “required trainings on implicit bias and mitigation for all hiring managers,” “mandatory DEI training for all newly hired staff,” and a “performance review process to include accountability around all of our staff, including managers, to uphold the HRC values that were developed via a staff-led process––equity & intersectionality, respect, teamwork & community, resilience, heart, boldness, responsibility, learning, and openness.“
In its own court filings to counter David’s suit, the HRC stated that it “never undertook any adverse employment action against Mr. David based on his race. His termination was based solely on his own conduct, including his poor judgment, misguided actions, and involvement in the Governor Cuomo scandal, his failure to take any accountability, and the fact that his conduct was counter to HRC’s values and mission.”
Yet, on March 15, David and the HRC issued a joint statement, published on HRC’s website, which declared that “The Human Rights Campaign, Inc. and The Human Rights Campaign Foundation (collectively, ‘HRC’) and Alphonso David (‘Mr. David’) have chosen to amicably resolve Mr. David’s lawsuit against HRC. HRC and Mr. David share the mission of advancing human rights for all LGBTQ+ people and realizing a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. Mr. David and HRC agree it is in their mutual best interests, and the interests of the communities that they serve, to put this matter behind them. The terms of the settlement are confidential.”
Alphonso David currently serves as the president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum (GBEF); this past February he was named one of 50 Notable Black Leaders by Crain’s New York Business. The HRC, for its part, has a new president, its first Black, queer woman—her name is Kelley Robinson.