Alphonso David, the president of the human rights campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ organization, was fired by the group’s board on Monday night for a report revealing that he had advised former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on dealing with allegations of sexual harassment.
David, the first black president of the group, was dismissed “for an important reason” in separate votes by the boards of the human rights campaign and its affiliated foundation after the two boards held a joint meeting. After two abstentions on the Board of Trustees, the votes were unanimous.
The removal of Mr David is the latest fallout from the report by Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, describing Mr Cuomo’s allegations of sexual harassment and the efforts of his staff to take revenge against the former governor’s accusers. Mr. Cuomo resigned in August after the report made 11 allegations and described a toxic work environment.
Mr David, who had worked as an attorney in Mr Cuomo’s office, was identified in the James report as being involved in efforts to undermine Mr Cuomo’s first accuser, Lindsey Boylan. Although Mr. David no longer worked there, he had a memo containing confidential information about Ms. Boylan’s career. He shared the memo with one of Mr. Cuomo’s communications advisors who hoped to give reporters details. Mr David has claimed that as a lawyer he has an obligation to do so.
Mr David also proposed changes to a letter slandering Ms. Boylan that circulated among Mr Cuomo and his aides, saying that he would collect signatures from former aides for it. However, he refused to sign it himself and later said that he did not know the extent of the allegations against Mr Cuomo. He called for Mr Cuomo’s resignation after the report was made public.
A person familiar with deliberations on the human rights campaign board said that when the allegations came to light, Mr. David never told the organization that he was providing advice to Mr. Cuomo. The person said that Mr. David did not consult the group’s attorney or tell them that he would be interviewed by Ms. James’ office.
Mr. David said he would fight his release. “As a black, gay man who has fought for civil and human rights all his life, you can’t silence me,” he said in a Twitter post late Monday. “Expect a legal challenge.”
Earlier, the two board chairmen Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson had stated in a statement that they had decided to end David’s role “with immediate effect for violating his contract with the human rights campaign.”
“This is a painful moment in our movement,” they wrote. “While the Board of Directors’ decision is not the outcome we ever envisioned or hoped for with regard to Mr. David’s tenure at HRC, his actions have placed us in an untenable position by violating the core values, guidelines and mission of HRC violated. “
The statement concerned a public dispute that unfolded between Mr. David and the Board of Directors over the weekend after Mr. David said he had been notified that a review of his actions had been completed and no wrongdoing was found.
“Yesterday and today, Mr. David issued a statement containing significant untruths about the investigation and his status with the organization,” said Mr. Cox and Ms. Patterson.
The review was carried out by members of the HRC Executive Committee. They determined that Mr. David had a conflict of interest in advising Mr. Cuomo’s office and that his efforts are damaging the organization’s reputation. Joni Madison, the group’s chief operating officer, becomes interim president while David’s successor is sought.
Mr. David is not the only liberal ally of Mr. Cuomo involved in the James report. Recently, prominent attorney Roberta A. Kaplan, a co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, whose mission is to fight for victims of sexual harassment, resigned after the James report revealed that she was with Tina Tchen, the executive director, spoke of Time’s Up, a letter written about Ms. Boylan by Mr. Cuomo’s staff. Despite denying the charge of advising Mr. Cuomo’s team on defamation of a victim, both Ms. Kaplan and Ms. Tchen recently resigned from their roles.
Mr David had been a Cuomo adviser for nine years when the human rights campaign hired him in June 2019. Announcing the appointment of Mr David, the group highlighted his work with the former governor on important advances in LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality and a ban on conversion therapy.
Divisions between Mr David’s supporters and those who believed he had crossed a line in helping Mr Cuomo tackle allegations of sexual harassment became even more apparent Sunday after Mr David posted his statement on Twitter. Along with stating that the review was completed without a finding of misconduct, he said that the co-chairs of the board “have now asked to consider resigning, not because of misconduct but because they believe that the incident was a ‘distraction’ to the organization. “
He said their plan was to “calmly resolve the matter this holiday weekend,” adding, “I have the support of too many of our employees, board members and stakeholders to go quietly into the night. I’m not resigning. “
“The idea that this is a distraction is just wrong,” said David. “I was not distracted, nor were my HRC colleagues who fight for human rights. The distraction would require my resignation without submitting the results of the review. “
Human rights campaign officials then released a statement to their own staff saying that the review had not been carried out and that Mr David misrepresented the information he was given about the results.
“We were very surprised and disappointed by the inaccuracies in his portrayal of events,” the two CEOs told their employees in an email. “This investigation will soon be completed,” the statement said, and the organization “will then have more to say.” The chief executives initially supported Mr. David in staying in his position, but when some staff asked if he should resign, they hired the Sidley Austin law firm to review his conduct.
The person familiar with the board’s decision said there was no written report of this review and that there never would be. Rather, there were oral presentations to the board of directors. Mr. David is said to have given the board of directors names in addition to the 10 hours he spent giving names for the interviews.
In a separate email sent to the organization’s staff on the Monday evening after the vote, the co-chairs continued to respond to Mr David’s statements a day earlier. “We – the CEOs – never told him that there was no sign of wrongdoing, nor did we tell him we wanted this to be dealt with ‘quietly’,” they said.
“This decision was made by the full board of the HRC and the HRC Foundation based on Alphonso’s own actions in support of Governor Cuomo,” they added. “He alone is responsible for what he has done and the consequences.”