WASHINGTON – Wayne Pacelle, CEO of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), resigned on Feb. 2 amid ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct by multiple women who worked with him. HSUS also announced the resignation of Erika Brunson, a board member. No explanation was given for the resignation of Pacelle or Brunson in the HSUS statement.
According to a report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the allegations include a sexual relationship between Pacelle and a female employee in 2005. An internal investigation also found at least two different cases of sexual harassment according to the Washington Post.
“The last few days have been very hard for our entire family of staff and supporters,” said Rick Bernthal, chairman of the board of the HSUS. “We are profoundly grateful for Wayne’s unparalleled level of accomplishments and service to the cause of animal protection and welfare.”
The HSUS named Kitty Block as acting president and CEO. Block is currently president of Humane Society International, the HSUS’s global affiliate.
Hours before announcing his resignation, HSUS released a statement saying it had found no evidence during its investigation to remove Pacelle from his position as CEO of the organization.
The investigation of Pacelle began last month. The inquiry was conducted by Grace Speights, who leads the labor and employment practice of the law firm of Morgan Lewis in Washington, DC.
HSUS board of directors issued the following statement after the article was published.
A special committee of the board was overseeing the investigation and reviewing the findings.
“One month ago, a member of our staff complained that our CEO had acted inappropriately toward her in 2005. We engaged a prominent law firm, Morgan Lewis, to take an independent look at that allegation. Our purpose was to assure fairness, confidentiality, protection of our complainant, and to give our CEO the due process that everyone deserves. At our direction, the law firm opened up the process to any others with a grievance. We were committed to learn the truth, and for four weeks, we took all comers,” Bernthal said in a statement.
“The board reviewed the information assembled and determined that there was not sufficient evidence to remove Wayne Pacelle from his position as CEO,” Bernthal said. “Many of the allegations were explosive in nature and reading or hearing about them is a shock to anyone. 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 statement also responded to allegations that the organization paid off employees to silence sexual harassment charges. “Like many employers, we often offer severance payments to employees who are leaving or whose positions are eliminated. They are often accompanied by non-disclosure agreements especially for positions dealing with confidential information such as donor data. This has happened hundreds of times within our organization, and it is customary for almost any major business,” Bernthal explained. “The Board concluded that there was no motivation behind severance agreements to silence women who had spoken up or raised concerns.”
Humanewatch.org recently discovered that former HSUS-National Council member Arthur Benjamin faced four separate lawsuits for sexual misconduct in the past. HSUS vice president Paul Shapiro was also faced with sexual harassment allegations last week.