Ex-head of U.S. Human Rights Campaign sues group, alleging racial discrimination

Feb 3 (Reuters) - The Black former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States, sued the organization on Thursday, accusing it of racial discrimination in his firing last year.

Alphonso David was fired on Sept. 6 after New York state Attorney General Letitia James issued a report saying he had advised former Governor Andrew Cuomo about dealing with sexual harassment allegations, the organization's board said then.

The civil rights attorney filed his lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn.

David, who said in his lawsuit that he was the 40-year-old group's first Black president, had held the post for two years. The Washington-based nonprofit group advocates for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ).

“Today, I am filing a lawsuit for the millions of Black and Brown people who face discrimination every day but fear retaliation or lack the resources to challenge it,” David said in a Twitter post.

The Human Rights Campaign's interim president, Joni Madison, said in a statement that David's actions in assisting Cuomo’s team in responding to allegations of sexual harassment were, among other things, in violation of the organization's conflict of interest policy and its mission.

"Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths. We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally," Madison said.

In a copy of the complaint he posted on Twitter, David said the organization had a "deserved reputation for unequal treatment" of its nonwhite employees. He said the Human Rights Campaign's own employees had described it as a "White Men’s Club" where nonwhite staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.

According to the complaint, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) renewed David's contract for five more years in August and gave him a 30% raise. During contract renewal negotiations, the lawsuit said, board members told David he was underpaid compared with his white predecessor because of his race.

The complaint also described an instance in which a white board member told the HRC president to stop mentioning race in public comments and said David regularly received pushback from senior colleagues on issues involving race.

The organization said that some of the individuals David accuses of discriminatory behavior are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion. Also, the organization's executive committees, constituted of independent directors, were comprised of seven individuals, five of whom are Black, it said.

Before serving as the group's president, David worked as counsel to then-Governor Cuomo.

In the lawsuit, David said that after he was interviewed over his involvement in Cuomo's handling of sexual harassment allegations, board members asked him to resign. He said that after he refused, he was terminated.

At the time, the co-chairs of HRC's board, Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, said his assistance of Cuomo's staff had violated the group's mission and accused him of making false statements.

The report by New York Attorney General James described allegations of sexual harassment by Cuomo, and efforts by his aides to retaliate against the then-governor's accusers.

David was identified in the report as having been involved in efforts to undermine Cuomo's first accuser, Lindsey Boylan.

Cuomo stepped down as governor in August after a state investigation concluded that he sexually harassed women who worked for him, including a state trooper. He at times expressed regret for making young women uncomfortable, but denied criminal wrongdoing and said it was "unfair" he had to resign.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago Editing by Frances Kerry

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