“Workplace misconduct” investigation could be the beginning of the end
WASHINGTON D.C.––Is the Humane Society of the U.S. close to changing the guard?
Recent indications are that HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, heading the organization since mid-2003, may be on his way out at the 2018 HSUS midyear annual meeting, if not sooner, in favor of a successor yet to be selected.
At Thanksgiving 2017, Pacelle, 52, appeared to have as much job security as anyone in animal advocacy.
Pacelle’s 23-year-tenure with HSUS included 10 years as vice president for governmental affairs, followed by 13 years as president and chief executive officer, with 13 years to go before reaching retirement age.
Among Pacelle’s accomplishments were leading HSUS in growth from $80 million in annual revenue in 2004, when he was elevated to the presidency, to an average of $125 million in 2014-2015.
Pacelle, early in his presidency, brokered mergers with half a dozen other organizations that significantly increased the HSUS program portfolio.
Two of the organizations HSUS absorbed, the Doris Day Animal League and the Fund for Animals, for which Pacelle was national director for five years before jumping to HSUS, had been significant rivals in direct mail fundraising.
Absorbing the Ark Trust and the Genesis Awards program it managed, meanwhile, gave HSUS a long coveted strong presence in the screen industry, that all of Pacelle’s predecessors as HSUS president had sought but failed to establish.
Pacelle subsequently survived several catastrophic strategic blunders, including political trade-offs that weakened instead of strengthening animal protection legislation in Ohio, California, Vermont, and Pennsylvania.
(See Legalizing California Battery Cages: HSUS & Egg Industry Redefine Proposition 2 in Toxic Ballot Measure, Costco, General Mills, Prop 2, and HSUS: New Day – Same Problem, Update: Vermont Gov Scott signs HSUS bill to cut puppy mill cage sizes, and Is burying pigeons alive legal in Pennsylvania?)
After years of courting conservative Republican office holders, especially in Arizona and Pennsylvania, HSUS endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, losing influence across the political spectrum.
Embracing pit bull advocacy in 2007, and even embracing convicted dogfighter and now retired football player Michael Vick, cost Pacelle and HSUS more support than anyone in the HSUS leadership echelons ever seems to have realized––especially since the American SPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and Maddie’s Fund had already joined the pit bull advocacy pack.
Of greater concern to the HSUS board and much of the donor base may have been losing an ill-advised series of lawsuits involving the now defunct Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, culminating in 2014 with a $15.7 million payment to Feld Entertainment, owner of the circus.
But Pacelle even survived a $13 million revenue drop in 2016 that brought extensive staff cuts during the latter half of the year, coinciding with the first widespread rumors of a sexual harassment scandal within HSUS to hit social media during his tenure as president.
The mistake Pacelle perhaps cannot survive was––and is––for such rumors to gain widespread credence, in a cause whose donor and activist bases are more than 80% female.
Under Pacelle, far more women have risen to positions of influence at HSUS than ever before. Twelve of the top 20 HSUS staff members are women, nine of the 15 current HSUS corporate officers are women, fifteen of the 31 members of the board of directors are women, and 14 of 20 members of National Council advisory board are women.
But rumors that some may have risen through sexual relationships with high-ranking men tend to harm the reputations of all, tend to damage the morale of others trying to rise through hard work, and tend to erode the atmosphere of trust and teamwork that a strong advocacy organization needs at the top.
Pacelle appears to have failed to handle whisperings about improper relationships among subordinates in a manner contributing to the confidence of other staff, donors, and activists. Moreover, Pacelle is now under suspicion of having fueled the rumor mill himself.
Chronicle of Philanthropy
“The Board of Directors of the Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s most influential animal-welfare group, has hired a Washington law firm to investigate an allegation of workplace misconduct against its longtime chief executive, Wayne Pacelle,” reported Marc Gunther in the January 25, 2018 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Founded in 1988, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reaches nearly 30,000 leaders in the nonprofit field.
Pacelle, paid $380,000 in 2014, “did not respond to an email seeking comment,” Gunther wrote.
Pacelle did not respond to an inquiry from ANIMALS 24-7, either, although he sent us sarcastic remarks just 48 hours earlier about our coverage of HSUS stumbling in response to pigeon shoots in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Law firm represents Donald Trump
Continued Gunther, “The investigation,” begun in December 2017, “is being run by Grace Speights, who leads the labor and employment practice at Morgan Lewis. Among the topics, insiders say, is an alleged sexual relationship between Pacelle and a female employee.”
“Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP is a global law firm,” summarizes Wikipedia. “Among their clients, they serve as tax counsel to United States President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization since 2005. The firm received the 2016 ‘Russia Law Firm of the Year’ award.”
Speights, according to her Morgan Lewis online bio, “handles high profile and high stakes workplace matters for many clients and is often called upon by clients for crisis management assistance.”
HSUS board president
Announced HSUS senior director of public relations Anna West via the HSUS web site, on behalf of HSUS board president Eric Bernthal, “The Board of Directors of the Humane Society of the United States retained Morgan Lewis in December  to conduct an investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct against our CEO, Wayne Pacelle. A special committee of the board is overseeing the investigation and reviewing its findings. We do not have information that can be shared regarding the investigation, its findings, or board actions at this time. We believe it is important to deal in substance and not rumors, and our process is designed to ensure confidentiality and fair consideration of these issues.”
But while Bernthal and the rest of the HSUS senior hierarchy might prefer to deliberate over Pacelle’s future and the future direction of HSUS in silence, many animal advocates, including some of the most prominent, openly hope the Pacelle regime at HSUS will fall, and that his anticipated impending exit will begin a new era in a cause whose leadership echelon has always consisted mostly of men.
“I don’t want to be tried by social media”
Observed Gunther, “Last month, Carol Adams,” whose 1990 book The Sexual Politics of Meat remains widely read and influential, “ran a series of guest commentaries on her blog by women calling on animal groups to address the problems of sexual harassment, as well as the power imbalances that make them possible. On her Facebook page, Adams identified Paul Shapiro, a former Humane Society executive and author of a new book, Clean Meat, as a ‘perpetrator.’ At a book reading several days later, Shapiro was interrupted by a heckler, asking him about sexual harassment.”
Responded Shapiro, “I don’t want to be tried by social media.”
Notwithstanding that, a background hum about his alleged case has continued since mid-2016, recently rising to a din threatening to drown out attention to Clean Meat––at least among animal advocacy activists.
“Nothing more for public consumption”
Continued Gunther, “Shapiro had an improper relationship with a subordinate, insiders at HSUS tell me. He left HSUS recently. By email, he told me that this was unrelated to issues of workplace conduct.”
Said Shapiro’s email, “I left HSUS on January 2 (the day the book came out) for the sole reason that I wanted to devote the time to the book launch that it required. As you know, since I began researching the book, my thinking really shifted about how best to help farm animals. (I now believe that food technology could more quickly advance animals’ interests.)”
Adams told ANIMALS 24-7 that, “At this point, there is nothing more for public consumption.”
“Gutless & complicit”
ANIMALS 24-7 has heard, but not confirmed, that several women besides those whose complaints initiated the allegations pertaining to Pacelle and Shapiro “may come forward with their stories,” according to one well-connected source.
But that sort of speculation is easily made, and means nothing much until and unless someone comes forward in a public manner.
“People I know,” said the well-connected source, ‘are looking forward to a major change in leadership. Several key positions. Those who know the most have been gutless and complicit in their silence. My prediction is that Wayne will retire ‘to pursue other interests.’ Settlements and non-disclosure agreements will squash the lurid details. HSUS will seek a woman to succeed him.”
Maybe. Among the 12 female vice presidents at HSUS are several who are, or have been, heads or acting heads of other large organizations and/or HSUS affiliates.
Among them, Kitty Block leads Humane Society International, the HSUS global arm. Holly Hazard headed the Doris Day Animal League from 1987 to 2006, when DDAL finally disappeared completely into HSUS. Heidi Prescott was national director of the Fund for Animals from 1994 to 2004. Nicole Paquette rose to senior vice president at the Animal Protection Institute, absorbed by Born Free USA in 2008.
Several other female HSUS vice presidents might be considered candidates to become chief executive by dint of long service within HSUS and other organizations, even if not previously in top capacities.
Several men also might be positioned to succeed Pacelle, including the three ranking longtime pit bull advocates within the organization: board president Bernthal, who retired from legal practice in 2012; vice president for legislation Mike Markarian, who was president at the Fund for Animals from 1998 to 2004; and senior vice president Andrew Rowan, who enjoyed substantial board support as a candidate to succeed former HSUS president Paul Irwin in 2004, but lost out to Pacelle.
Or Pacelle himself may somehow dodge a bullet to remain at the helm, perhaps with a diminished role within a structure that has become something of a cult of personality, from which practically all achievements and announcements reach the public first through “Wayne’s Blog.”
The blog appears to have multiple anonymous authors. Among the other HSUS senior personnel in recent years, only fellow bloggers Markarian and the now departed Shapiro appear to have enjoyed frequent public recognition.
Whatever happens next at the top at HSUS, this is scarcely the first time HSUS has weathered a sexual harassment scandal. Pacelle should remember in particular the messy 1995 exit of former HSUS vice president for investigations David Wills, whom Pacelle had praised as a “bang-up reform” movement leader during Wills’ previous tenure as president of the Michigan Humane Society.
Three HSUS employees in August 1995 sued Wills for alleged sexual harassment and embezzling. Suspended by HSUS soon afterward, Wills was fired in November 1995.
Wills countersued the HSUS employees who sued him. Those cases were settled out of court in mid-1998.
On trial in Texas
Wills meanwhile was convicted in 1996 of embezzling from HSUS. Moving on to work for several organizations representing animal use industries, and then into promoting investments in failed shrimp farming schemes, Wills has since 2015 been facing trial in Texas for allegedly trafficking a nine-year-old girl for purposes of sexual exploitation.
Co-defendant Maria Candalaria Losoya pleaded guilty in mid-2017 but has yet to be sentenced.
The Wills episode appeared to traumatize HSUS into adopting and for a time enforcing much stricter policies pertaining to ethics.
Arthur E. Benjamin
But the post-Wills ethics policies were apparently ignored with the 2011 elevation of financier Arthur E. Benjamin, founder of an entity called American Dog Rescue Inc., to the HSUS National Council.
Benjamin until mid-2011 headed ATI Enterprises, also known as the ATI Career Training Centers, which was already facing federal False Claims Act charges. In August 2013 Benjamin agreed to pay $3.7 million to settle those allegations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Benjamin had also “been sued for sexual assault, rape, and harassment on at least four occasions,” the animal use industry front HumaneWatch detailed on August 2, 2016, posting links to several court documents pertaining to the cases, all of which ended in settlements.
The HumaneWatch exposé appeared about a year after Benjamin left the HSUS National Council, coincidental with the first rumors about Shapiro reaching social media.