The board named Kitty Block, an attorney who is president of Humane Society’s international affiliate, as acting chief executive.
“The last few days have been very hard for our entire family of staff and supporters,” said Rick Bernthal, Chairman of the Board of The HSUS. “We are profoundly grateful for Wayne’s unparalleled level of accomplishments and service to the cause of animal protection and welfare.”
The resignation came hours after Chairman Bernthal had dismissed the complaints against Pacelle as lacking “credible evidence.”
Former golden boy, Humane society CEO Wayne Pacelle testifies before the Senate in 2008, in Washington, DC.
Following an investigation that began last month after several women reported offenses ranging from a frat-like “bro” culture to sexual assault in the animal-welfare non-profit organization.
Wayne Pacelle, has been facing accusations of sexual harassment, that ratcheted such that the non-profit organization hired a law firm, Morgan Lewis, to look into the matter when three separate complaints emerged from past and present staff, according to a report in Philanthropy, an animal-welfare organizations publication.
Quoting a memo released by the society, The Washington Post reports that a complaint dates back to 2005, when Pacelle allegedly asked an intern to meet at a coffee shop, where he tried to kiss her.
A second incident allegedly occurred in 2006 when a woman who often traveled with Pacelle on business allegedly received inappropriate sexual propositions from the CEO during a work trip. The alleged victim turned him down, but he allegedly threatened to fire her if she spoke of the incident.
The third incident comes from 2012 when Pacelle allegedly, stopped by the office of a woman who has since left the organization and started salsa dancing, inviting her to join him.
Pacelle has denied all three incidents to The Washington Post.
“The one complaint about the salsa dancing, I simply had a conversation with a person and it turned into that,” he said. “The person with the hotel — I’m familiar with that. I worked with the person eight years after that allegation. The person never said a thing to me about any harassment, and I certainly never invited her to a hotel room.”
In a statement, the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States confirmed the investigation, noting that it retained Morgan Lewis in December “to conduct an investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct against our CEO, Wayne Pacelle.”
The organization said that 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,” the statement said. “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.”
The reversal was a 180 turn from a day earlier when members of the board defied a backlash by major donors and the threat of walkouts by employees and voted 17-9 with two abstaining Thursday to retain Pacelle after an investigation found three complaints of sexual harassment against him.
The decision completely flew in the face of the current pattern of removing leaders accused of sexual misconduct. in the workplace – seven board members quit the organization immediately after the vote to protest the decision.
“Many of the allegations were explosive in nature, and reading or hearing about them is a shock to anyone,” Bernthal said in an earlier statement.
“It was to us, too. But when we sifted through the evidence presented, we did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence.”
Wayne Pacelle has headed the non-profit for 14 years, during which time the finances have grown tremendously
Sources later revealed that during a seven-hour conference call Thursday, a majority of board members calculated that cutting ties with Pacelle would do more damage to the nonprofit than keeping him in the post.
In the view of one member, Jeffrey Arciniaco, at least “We have a lot of animals to protect – and staff to protect,” Arciniaco, president of the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale and a board member since 2009, said Friday. Adding that members made the call to retain Pacelle only after much deliberation: “We looked at the facts. We have a lot of great employees, and we made a very careful decision” he said.
In the face of the brewing storm Pacelle denied all the allegations.
“I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward,” he said to the Washington Post on Monday.
But the internal investigation by a law firm hired by the Humane Society uncovered that in the past, senior female colleagues had warned Pacelle against his conduct with little effect.
Contrary to the assertions by Chairman Bernthal that the allegations were lacking “credible evidence,” the inquiry also found the nonprofit had offered settlements to three former employees who said they were dismissed or demoted after telling their co-workers about Pacelle’s alleged misconduct.
The Post reports that one woman said she received a settlement from the Humane Society after she complained about Pacelle’s alleged girlfriend joining her team without proper qualifications and was shut out of work opportunities, according to the memo.
Two other women received payouts after they leveled retaliation charges against the organization, asserting they lost their jobs after speaking up about Pacelle’s office romance and sexual behavior in the office.
Bernthal in his earlier statement, suggested board members were not persuaded by the allegations against Pacelle, severance payments for departing employees were “customary for almost any major business,” he said.
A number of prominent supporters had said they would end their relationship with the Humane Society to protest Thursday’s vote. A group of employees had said they were organizing a walkout at the organization’s headquarters in Washington, District of Columbia, next week.
Pacelle, who has led the organization since 2004, had spread the nonprofit’s reach, board members argued during the call, according to people familiar with the matter.
Over the last decade, the Humane Society has grown from $160 million in assets to $210 million under Pacelle’s leadership, according to the latest IRS filings.
During the call, Bernthal invited all board members to speak.
Pacelle also spoke to the conference call for about 10 minutes, describing his achievements and denying allegations of sexual harassment.
However, the call did not hear from the lawyer who conducted the investigation into Pacelle’s behavior, as a matter of fact two board members apologized to Pacelle during the call which some attendees described as “dysfunctional.”