HSUS CEO steps down amid sexual harassment allegations

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has resigned from his leadership position with the animal rights organization amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

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Wayne Pacelle has resigned as the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. | Kathclick, Bigstock
Wayne Pacelle has resigned as the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. | Kathclick, Bigstock

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has resigned from his leadership position with the animal rights organization amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

HSUS on February 2 issued a press release announcing that the organization’s board has accepted Pacelle’s resignation.

“The last few days have been very hard for our entire family of staff and supporters,” said Rick Bernthal, HSUS board chairman.  â€śWe are profoundly grateful for Wayne’s unparalleled level of accomplishments and service to the cause of animal protection and welfare.”

Pacelle, who has been at the helm of HSUS since 2004, has been accused of sexually harassing two former HSUS employees and a former intern.

HSUS earlier voted to retain Pacelle

Several hours prior to when HSUS issued its press release concerning Pacelle’s resignation, the organization offered another press release, revealing that it had investigated the allegations against Pacelle.

That release stated: “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.”

However, the HSUS board, after reviewing the information presented to it after the investigation was completed, determined that there was not sufficient evidence to remove Pacelle from his position as CEO.

Board resignations

Apparently, not all HSUS board members were in agreement with the decision to retain Pacelle.

According to The New York Times and other media outlets, seven board members resigned in protest of the decision not to terminate Pacelle. Those seven names were not included in either of the HSUS press releases. However, in the Times report, one board member, Erika Brunson, called the allegations against Pacelle “ridiculous” and made further comments that appeared to put the blame of women who had been sexually harassed on the victims.

“Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody,” Brunson asked. “Women should be able to take care of themselves. We’d have no executives of American companies if none of them had affairs.”

The Times indicated that Brunson was still a member of the HSUS board at the time those comments were made, but the same press release in which HSUS announced it had accepted Pacelle’s resignation, it also stated that it had accepted Brunson’s resignation.

Interim CEO

HSUS has appointed Kitty Block as the acting president and CEO of the organization.

Block is currently president of Humane Society International (HSI), HSUS’s global affiliate.

“We are most grateful to Kitty for stepping forward to lead the organization as we continue to advance our mission, which has never been more important,” said Bernthal.

Block has served at The HSUS since 1992, first as a legal investigator to the investigations department, then to oversee international policy work related to international trade and treaties. In 2007, she was promoted to vice president of HSI, later to senior vice president, and last year became president of this affiliate overseeing all HSI international campaigns and programs.

Block received a law degree from The George Washington University in 1990 and a bachelor’s degree in communications and philosophy from the University of New Hampshire in 1986. 

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