HRC to Investigate President Alphonso David Following AG Report

Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David.
Donna Aceto

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has hired a private law firm to conduct an internal investigation into HRC President Alphonso David after the New York attorney general’s report revealed that he aided Governor Andrew Cuomo in responding to allegations of sexual harassment.

According to the report unveiled by the office of Attorney General Letitia James, David provided the governor’s office with an accuser’s personnel file, worked to convince women to sign a statement praising the governor, participated in discussions to secretly record another accuser, and was among those who Cuomo “actively consulted” in the aftermath of the allegations. David once served as Cuomo’s top counsel, but was working for HRC at the time he helped the governor.

In a statement, HRC Foundation Board chair Jodie Patterson and HRC board of directors chair Morgan Cox announced that HRC hired Sidley Austin LLP to carry out an internal investigation. The firm will work directly with the board of directors for up to 30 days to “shed light on the events that unfolded and guide the boards on the necessary next steps,” the boards said in a statement first reported by The Advocate and later announced by HRC via social media. HRC’s board of directors and the HRC Foundation had recently awarded David with a five-year contract extension on the day when the report came out, according to the Huffington Post.

“The investigation will include consideration of whether Alphonso David’s actions aligned with HRC’s mission and values, as well as with professional and ethics standards,” the statement added.

“We commend the courage of the many survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment who have come forward and give them our full support,” Cox and Patterson continued. “Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation President Alphonso David’s inclusion in the New York State Attorney General’s report on the investigation of Governor Andrew Cuomo is very concerning. Over the past several days, HRC’s employees, supporters, board members, and partners have raised questions about the appropriateness of Alphonso David’s actions and whether they align with HRC’s decades’ long mission of fighting for equality and justice for all.”

Despite multiple calls for his resignation, David will still lead the organization during the investigation. In a statement, David condemned the governor’s actions and said he backs the decision of HRC’s board to thoroughly investigate the allegations. He claims he was not aware of the extent of the governor’s misconduct, although the allegations have made national headlines since last year.

“It is an important effort to ensure transparency that I have supported and engaged in with the board and staff since I joined this organization,” he said in a written statement posted on Twitter. “I appreciate the open dialogue we are having and the support of so many across the organization. Multiple inaccuracies have been circulating and therefore, this definitive review is important. For instance, I had no knowledge of any incidents of misconduct involving the 11 survivors referenced in the AG’s report and, in fact, learned about these allegations by reading the report.”

He added, “I was directed to turn over an electric copy of a counseling memo regarding a state employee after I left state service, which I was obligated to do for a former client. As the report makes clear, I was not involved in any public dissemination of that memo (which was part of a larger physical file all in possession of the Governor’s Office). I was also asked to sign a letter about the same employee, which I refused to sign and never agreed to circulate it. I did not sign their original letter nor any of their other letters because it runs counter to my basic principles and the work I dedicated my life to. I have been and will always be an ally to survivors everywhere for whom we fight every day.”

In the wake of the allegations, Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo, resigned on August 8. According to the AG report, DeRosa asked David for the “full file” of Lindsey Boylan, one of Cuomo’s accusers, after she came forward with sexual harassment allegations. In 2018, David had set up a “counseling session” with Boylan to address an issue between Boylan and another employee, according to the report. DeRosa asked David at the time to “pls create a file for lindsey/ Pls put this in it.”

Roberta Kaplan, an out attorney who was a co-chair for Time’s Up, which supports victims of sexual harassment, stepped down from her position on August 9 after facing heat after she was mentioned in the AG report for reviewing a never-published op-ed against one of the governor’s accusers. In her resignation letter, Kaplan, who has represented DeRosa, cited her legal work as a reason why she is departing.

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