Humane Society CEO resigns after sexual harassment allegations
The announcement of Pacelle’s departure comes one day after the charity’s board voted to retain the chief executive, and two hours after the board chairman dismissed the allegations against him as lacking “credible evidence.”
The board named Kitty Block, an attorney who is president of Humane Society’s international affiliate, as acting chief executive.
“The last few days have been very hard for our entire family of staff and supporters,” board chairman Rick Bernthal said in a statement. “We are profoundly grateful for Wayne’s unparalleled level of accomplishments and service to the cause of animal protection and welfare.”
Block’s appointment ends a tumultuous week at the Humane Society after an internal investigation identified three complaints of sexual harassment against Pacelle, and found senior women who said he had ignored warnings to change his conduct.
In an emailed statement to staff, Pacelle praised Block as a “fitting” replacement and a “fabulous” advocate for animal rights.
“I am resigning, effective immediately . . . to put aside any distractions, in the best interests of all parties,” he wrote.
The results of the investigation, first reported in The Washington Post on Monday, led to a revolt by major donors and a walkout threat from employees, and set the stage for a contentious board meeting on Thursday.
In a seven-hour conference call Thursday, board members voted 17 to 9 with two abstaining to retain Pacelle at the helm. Seven board members quit the organization after the vote to protest the decision.
“Many of the allegations were explosive in nature, and reading or hearing about them is a shock to anyone,” Bernthal said in a statement Friday. “It was to us, too. But when we sifted through the evidence presented, we did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence.”
The Humane Society later released an additional statement announcing Pacelle would be leaving, and that Block would be taking his place.
Block, who starts her new role immediately, is a Humane Society veteran. In 1995, when she was working as a legal investigator, she and a female co-worker accused a superior of sexual harassment, according to a 1996 report in The Washington Post. The official was later fired.
Block continued to rise through the ranks, overseeing international policy work related to trade, and holding executive roles before she was named acting chief executive Friday.
In voting to retain Pacelle on Thursday, a majority of board members calculated that his exit would do more damage to the nonprofit than keeping him in the post, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.
“We have a lot of animals to protect — and staff to protect,” Jeffrey Arciniaco, president of the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale and a board member since 2009, told The Post on Friday.
Aricinaco would not comment on his vote or the internal discussion, but he said members made the call to retain Pacelle only after much deliberation: “We looked at the facts. We have a lot of great employees, and we made a very careful decision.”
The choice to keep Pacelle broke with a recent pattern of removing leaders accused of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Over the past several months, high-profile figures have stepped down or been fired, including Roger Ailes of Fox News, Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and several television personalities.
The internal investigation by a law firm hired by the Humane Society also found that senior female leaders said they had warned Pacelle against his conduct with little effect.
Pacelle denied all the allegations to The Post on Monday.
“I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward,” he said.
He was not available for comment Friday.
The inquiry found the nonprofit had offered settlements to three former employees who said they were dismissed or demoted after telling their co-workers about Pacelle’s alleged misconduct.
In his earlier statement, Bernthal suggested board members were not persuaded by the allegations against Pacelle. He said severance payments for departing employees were “customary for almost any major business.”
A number of prominent supporters had said they would end their relationship with the Humane Society to protest Thursday’s vote. A group of employees had said they were organizing a walkout at the organization’s headquarters in Washington next week.
Pacelle, who joined the Humane Society in 1994, became chief executive in 2004.
Pacelle had spread the nonprofit’s reach, board members argued during the call Thursday, according to people familiar with the matterPacelle had spread the nonprofit’s reach, board members argued during the call, according to people familiar with the matter. Over the last decade, the charity has grown from $160 million in assets to $210 million under Pacelle’s leadership, according to the latest IRS filings.
During the call, Bernthal invited all board members to speak. However, the call did not hear from the lawyer who conducted the investigation into Pacelle’s behavior, three people familiar with the matter said.
The chief executive also spoke to the conference call for about 10 minutes, describing his achievements and denying allegations of sexual harassment.
Two board members apologized to Pacelle during the call, three people familiar with the matter said.
“We didn’t hire him to be a choir boy,” Erika Brunson, an interior designer who left the board in the wake of Pacelle’s departure, told The Post she said on the call. “We hired him to do a good job for the animals.”
Brunson added: “Our mission is to help animals, not to investigate Wayne’s allegations from years ago,” she said Friday.
A number of supporters had moved to cut their ties with the Humane Society after the board’s decision.
Josh Skipworth, the Humane Society’s state director in Iowa, said he initially decided to quit the organization after the board appeared to prioritize Pacelle’s fundraising talents over a toxic workplace environment for women.
“The organization’s revenue has gone up significantly since he’s been CEO. It’s viewed as a positive shift since he became CEO,” Skipworth said. “But It’s ridiculous to put the business outlook over the female employees,” he said.
He later said he would stay on.
Other board members told the call they found it troubling the Humane Society would invoke Pacelle’s business record while discussing an investigation into sexual harassment, the people familiar with the matter said.
One of the people familiar with the matter called the discussion “extremely dysfunctional.” Another said they were “stunned” by the vote and thought the evidence against Pacelle was “compelling.”
The Humane Society investigation interviewed 33 witnesses, including Pacelle, outlining complaints from a former intern who said Pacelle kissed her against her will in 2005; a former employee who said he asked to masturbate in front of her and offered her oral sex in a hotel room 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.
The board members who resigned Thursday included: Suzy Welch, the journalist and author; Marsha Perelman, former chief executive of the Philadelphia Zoo; Jennifer Leaning, director of the Harvard FXB Center; cartoonist Patrick McDonnell; Buffy Linehan, a former executive at the Altria Group; Andrew Weinstein, chief executive of Ridgeback Communications; and David Brownstein, managing director and head of public finance at Citi.
Emmanuel Koro Correspondent
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO Wayne Pacelle resigned from his position on 2 February 2018 following sexual molestation that led to donor threat to stop funding the HSUS if he did not resign.
Well-known for investigating animal rights violations worldwide, Mr Pacelle came under investigation for alleged sexual molestation of a female employee.
Among other allegations, Mr Pacelle is said to have requested an HSUS female if he could masturbate in front of her and also asked to perform oral sex and kiss her.
Mr Pacelle resigned after the majority of a 31 member HSUS board members had voted to keep him as the HSUS CEO.
However, seven members of the HSUS immediately resigned on 2 February 2018 in protest of that decision.
These developments come against a background of pro-sustainable use Southern African conservationists’ ongoing argument that animal rights groups put the well being of animals above those of human beings, both at the rural community and government levels.
Under the leadership of Mr Pacelle, the HSUS became the world’s most influential animal rights groups.
Mr Pacelle played a lead role in raising funds for the HSUS, with $200 million being raised annually.
Pacelle’s resignation means that he has parted with his $38 000 monthly salary which was largely raised to save wildlife such as rhinos and elephants in Africa.
Sadly, Southern African rural communities that live side-by-side with animals say they have never received such money.
This suggests that most of it might have been going to pay the salaries of HSUS employees such as Pacelle.
His $456 000 annual salary is much higher than what some private company CEOs and even that of presidents of most countries worldwide.
Mr Pacelle and his organisation are well-known for self-righteously investigating many people worldwide for violating animal rights — then recommending their arrest.
However, many pro-sustainable use conservationists from Southern Africa also wonder why Mr Pacelle, the HSUS and other animal rights groups are not being investigated for crimes against rhinos and elephants.
These animals are in danger from poaching, but the crisis has been created and sustained by HSUS and others in their continued sponsorship of the ban of both rhino horn and ivory trade within the CITES decision-making framework.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) elephant specialist group has continued to argue that a ban in ivory and any wildlife products, including rhino horn, does not stop poaching.
Through such wildlife product bans, animal rights groups should also be investigated for violating rural communities’ rights to derive revenue from rhino horn and ivory trade in their areas.
“This revenue (from rhino and elephant activities) might dry up forever, along with the conservation incentives they create to co-exist with wildlife,” said Rosie Cooney, chairwoman of IUCN‘s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group in a recent media statement.
“So what do we do to create a future where giants have space to roam? We need to hear voices of the local people. Well-meaning people from the West need to stop shouting and start listening.”
The unjustified, unscientific and animal rights-sponsored ban on international trade in rhino horn and ivory trade continues to negatively impact on the socio-economic well-being of rural communities living side- by-side with elephants and rhinos.
The rhino and elephant conservation money as well as money for their socio-economic well-being is now going to poachers and animal rights groups.
Poachers are now cashing in by illegally supplying the rhino horn and ivory to a market that continues to demand them.
As the rhino and elephant poaching crisis intensifies, animal rights groups also intensify their fundraising efforts to “save” elephants and rhinos.
Worse still, because elephants and rhinos are failing to pay their way, Southern African governments are struggling to protect their rhinos and elephants against poachers who ironically are benefiting from their rhinos and elephants.
Mr Pacelle’s alleged human rights violation against someone under his employ and mentorship is strikingly and curiously similar to our continued observation that far from conserving and loving the Southern African rhinos and elephants — animal rights activists such as him and the organisations that they represent such as the HSUS, are ironically signing the death warrants of these animals through sponsoring trade bans within CITES.
Does it take the violation of an HSUS female employee’s rights and not those of the entire Southern African rural communities that have been and continue to be publicly robbed of their benefits from wildlife – to notice that they have also violated human rights in Southern Africa and also need to be investigated?
Southern Africa has a strong case against animal rights groups; for violation of human rights and also for having a hand in rhino and elephant poaching through their continued support of rhino horn and ivory bans within CITES – a UN agency that they have long scandalously captured and now control with very few people questioning this unwanted development.
Notably, the ongoing investigation against HSUS CEO’s alleged sexual violation of his own female employ has presented Southern Africans with a very strong case to also start investigating Mr Pacelle, the HSUS and other animal rights groups for their well-known crimes against rhinos and elephants and in turn the violation of rural communities’ rights from benefiting from the sale of ivory and rhino.
The millions of Southern African rural community residents and thousand of the region’s elephants and rhinos certainly have a stronger case against Mr Pacelle and other animal rights groups’ involvement in their compromised wellbeing. But it is Southern Africans who should call for this investigation, even if it means asking the International Court of Justice, known for prosecuting African and most non-western country leaders for crimes against humanity but not so for the animal rights groups’ well-known and now well explained criminal exploitation of Southern African people and their wildlife.
As long as Southern African rural communities do not benefit from their rhinos and elephants, they do not see the need to conserve them. It is the animal rights groups’ continued support of rhino horn and ivory trade ban in CITES that is now forcing them to collaborate with poachers for very small amounts. Small amounts that they can spend in a day, which means they are welcoming rhino and elephant poachers back into their communities and giving them almost daily safe passage into neighbouring national parks to poach rhinos and elephants. That is how fast Southern African is losing its rhinos daily, with South Africa losing over 1200 rhinos annually and other countries in the region losing hundreds of them. South Africa has the biggest rhino population in the world, well over 20 000.
To find out what rural people say about issues related to the ban on ivory trade and the USA Government’s Zimbabwe elephant hunting trophy import ban into the USA, this writer recently interviewed poor rural communities neighbouring the Hwange National Park, one of Africa’s iconic national parks with one of the highest elephant populations. It is here where one can see how communities neighbouring national parks pay for costs of living side by side with elephants but sadly, with no benefits.
The message from poor Hwange villagers in reaction to the 2014 USA Government’s Zimbabwe elephant hunting trophy imports ban in to the USA – the world’s biggest hunting market and also CITES’s animal rights sponsored ban on international trade in ivory, was: “We are now tired of living with and pay for the costs from elephants. We now want Western governments such as the USA and animal rights groups from there to come and air-lift the elephants and take them to cities like Washington DC or New York. Maybe they have space to keep them there. We are not benefiting from our elephants and there is no reason why we should continue to keep them. We appeal to President Donald Trump to lift the ban on Zimbabwe elephant hunting trophy imports into the USA and CITES to lift the ban on international trade in ivory.”
The HSUS is one of the most influential animal rights groups in the world and is credited for having significant influence over most of the wildlife management decisions made by both the USA Government and CITES.
Mr Pacelle joined the Humane Society in 1994 and was appointed its chief executive officer in 2004. According to the charity’s latest USA Internal Revenue Service information published in 2016, Mr Pacelle was paid about $380 000 annually. Despite being investigated, Mr Pacelle continues to work for the HSUS.
-Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.