The CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, resigned Friday after allegations of sexual harassment and a firestorm of criticism from staff and donors, according to The New York Times.
Pacelle had initially maintained a majority of support from the board, but donors and employees of the organization soon voiced their disapproval of the board’s decision to end an investigation into his behavior and called for his resignation.
Pacelle’s resignation was the culmination of an internal investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct against the CEO. As first reported by The Washington Post, the investigation outlines “complaints from a former intern who said Pacelle kissed her against her will in 2005; a former employee who said he asked to masturbate in front of her and offered her oral sex in a hotel room in 2006; and a former employee who said he stopped by her office late one night in 2012 and asked her to salsa dance with him.”
Despite denying the allegations against him, Pacelle announced that he would resign as CEO so that the organization could begin the search for a new chief executive.
“I am resigning, effective immediately, to allow that process to move forward expeditiously and to put aside any distractions, in the best interests of all parties,” he wrote in an email to staff on Friday.
The chairman of the Humane Society’s board, Eric L. Bernthal, explained the board’s decision to end the inquiry into the allegations.
“Many of these allegations were explosive in nature, and reading or hearing about them is a shock to anyone,” Bernthal wrote in an email to staff. “It was to us, too. But when we sifted through the evidence presented, we simply did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence.”
But many employees were disappointed by the board’s decision to retain Pacelle, prompting severe backlash and resignations from several board members who disagreed with the decision.
“I can’t make any sense of the board’s decision to end the investigation,” said Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist for the group who announced that she would not seek to renew her contract, according to the Times. “Women were still coming forward yesterday. That these so-called leaders weren’t inclined to learn more about the sexualized culture that many employees experienced over many years is beyond comprehension to me and feels like a betrayal of trust.”
Following Pacelle’s resignation, Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International, was named acting CEO of the organization.