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First Black leader of Human Rights Campaign sues, says he was fired because of race

Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David speaks to supporters on Saturday Dec.19, 2020 during a get-out-the-vote event at a private residence in Dunwoody, Ga. David has filed a lawsuit against the organization in federal court, alleging that he was underpaid and then terminated because he is Black.
Bita Honarvar
Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David speaks to supporters on Saturday Dec.19, 2020 during a get-out-the-vote event at a private residence in Dunwoody, Ga. David has filed a lawsuit against the organization in federal court, alleging that he was underpaid and then terminated because he is Black.

The former president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Alphonso David, has filed a lawsuitagainst the organization on Thursday — arguing that the country's largest gay rights advocacy group underpaid him and eventually fired him because of his race.

David, a Black civil rights lawyer who served as the organization's leader for two years, is alleging the HRC fired him because he is Black while also saying the organization has a "deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees."

The advocacy group terminated David as its president last Septemberfollowing a report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James revealing he helped former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual misconduct allegations.

In James' investigative report which concluded that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and prompted the governor's resignation, David's name appears roughly three dozen times. David served as counsel to Cuomo for several years.

In the 16-page lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York, David argues that the advocacy group has "maintained discriminatory employment practices" and during contract negotiations with the HRC in 2021, HRC board members "acknowledged" that he was severely underpaid in comparison to his white predecessor "because of his race."

David, who was the organization's first Black president, also alleges that a "prominent" white board member confronted him in front of other HRC staff members after he had given a speech on race, saying "We all know you're Black, why do you keep telling us that?"

And after the summer 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd, Chris Speron, a senior executive, chastised David for issuing a statement on behalf of the HRC in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the lawsuit. David alleges Speron also expressed concerns about "alienating" white donors, specifically "white gay men."

Additionally, David's suit says the same senior executive also "expressed displeasure about hiring a Black-owned consulting firm."

"He criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present," according to the lawsuit.

At the same event where the board member criticized David for giving a speech on race, HRC board co-chair Jodie Patterson expressed her concerns to a guest that the organization "was not ready for a Black President."

The lawsuit adds that after sitting down with outside investigators looking into HRC's connection to the Cuomo allegations and answering their questions, David was contacted one evening by HRC board co-chairs during the Labor Day weekend telling him to resign by 8 a.m. the next day or he would be "terminated for cause."

HRC interim President Joni Madison said in a statementresponding to the lawsuit that the organization was "disappointed" that David had decided to "take retaliatory action" against the organization "for his termination which resulted from his own actions."

"Mr. David's complaint is riddled with untruths. We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David's termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC's mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally," Madison said.

"Notably, some of the individuals he accuses of discriminatory behavior are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization," she adds.

David's lawsuit comes as a slew of other high-profile individuals have stepped down from or were terminated by organizations because of their connections to Cuomo.

In August, board chair of the feminist group Time's Up, Roberta Kaplan, resigned after the James' report revealed she had advised Cuomo's administration after the first allegations of sexual harassment were made against him.

Weeks later, the group's CEO, Tina Tchen, quit after text messages published by The Washington Post revealed she had called off a plan for a statement of support for Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan. News reports alleged that Tchen and Kaplan gave feedback on an unpublished opinion column smearingBoylan.

Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the governor's younger brother, was fired from the cable news network in December after the investigation detailed his role in helping his brother fight the allegations.

And on Wednesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned after he reported to the network's external investigation into Chris Cuomo that he was having a consensual, romantic relationship with CNN marketing chief Allison Gollust, who reported to Zucker.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.

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