The former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit against the organization on Thursday, alleging that he was underpaid and then fired “because he is Black,” and that the HRC has a “deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees.”
Alphonso David, a Black civil rights lawyer who led the HRC for more than two years, was fired in September after a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James detailed how he helped “discredit” a sexual harassment accuser of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo’s former chief counsel, David, has denied any wrongdoing. David claims in his lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, that he was fired “because he is Black” and that the organization “maintained discriminatory employment practices.”
David claims that during a contract renewal discussion, HRC board members “acknowledged” that he was paid less than his white predecessor “due to his race.” He also claims that he was repeatedly told not to talk about race in public.
In one instance, David claims that shortly after giving a speech on race, a “prominent” white board member confronted him in front of other HRC staffers and said, “We all know you’re Black, why do you keep telling us that?”
According to the suit, following the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, a senior executive chastised David for issuing a statement on behalf of the HRC in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to David, the executive expressed concern about “alienating” white donors, particularly “white gay men.”
According to the lawsuit, the same executive asked David to remove the fact that he was the organization’s first Black president from his bio on the organization’s website and “expressed displeasure” with the hiring of a Black-owned consulting firm.
In one instance, David describes how the same executive chastised a Black employee for attending a meeting with the firm without the presence of a white employee. “I just know how it could be when Black people get together like that,” the executive allegedly told David. “It will be similar to all Black people looking out for each other.” I don’t want them to fail because they believe that just because you’re black, you’ll bail them out.”
In a statement, the HRC’s interim president, Joni Madison, stated that David’s role in assisting Cuomo led to his termination and that the lawsuit is “riddled with untruths.”
The lawsuit is the latest setback for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, which has come under fire in recent years for allegedly mistreating some of the LGBTQ community’s most vulnerable members: people of color and transgender people.
David was fired from the HRC several weeks after the attorney general’s report accused him of “disparagement” of a former Cuomo employee, Lindsey Boylan, who had accused the governor of “pervasive harassment.”
The report, which led to Cuomo’s resignation in August, confirmed allegations that Cuomo had sexually harassed several women, including Boylan. Cuomo has apologized publicly, but has insisted that he did not intend to harass any of his accusers. The former governor has not been criminally charged in connection with the allegations.
According to the report, David assisted in the drafting of a letter about the allegations in 2020, and some individuals who had access to the letter described it as “victim shaming.”
The letter was never published, and David did not sign it, but the investigation discovered that he agreed to circulate it in order to see if others would sign it. According to the report, David promised to sign the letter “if necessary.” Prior to the attorney general’s report, David denied that he had circulated the letter, and after his firing, David vowed to go to court to challenge his dismissal.