Does Alphonso David have a case?

Alphonso David, former president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Alphonso David, former president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Ovidiu Hrubaru/Shutterstock
Alphonso David, former president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Does Alphonso David have a case?

After being ousted from the Human Rights Campaign, David has threatened the organization’s board with a “legal challenge” but does he have a shot at a successful suit?
September 9, 2021

On Monday evening, Alphonso David was fired from his post as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBTQ organization in the country.

David’s termination was just another in a series of fall outs stemming from the release of Attorney General Letitia James’ damning report that corroborated 11 accusations of sexual harassment against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In August, Tina Tchen, the CEO of Time’s Up, an organization aimed at combating workplace harassment, and Roberta Kaplan, the chair of the organization, resigned after it was learned that they helped advise Cuomo following accusations that he had sexually harassed his female employees.

Since being ousted from the organization, David has taken to Twitter to allege that he was fired unfairly and that the nonprofit should “expect a legal challenge.” However, after speaking with legal experts, familiar with New York’s employment laws, it doesn’t look like David has much of a case if he chooses to pursue legal action.

The Human Rights Campaign’s made the decision to terminate David on Monday, following two seperate votes by both the organization’s board and its affiliated foundation, after they held a joint meeting. While there were two abstentions from the foundation’s board, the votes to fire David were unanimous and the former president was let go “effective immediately, for violations of his contract with the Human Rights Campaign.”

David was identified in James’ report, which detailed that he had previously been an attorney in Cuomo’s office and had been a part of efforts to diminish his first accuser Lindsey Boylan’s accusations of sexual impropriety against the governor. The former Human Rights Campaign president shared a memo containing confidential information about Boylan’s employment history, during the time she worked as an aide for Cuomo, which the governor’s staffers planned to release to the press. James’ report also indicates that David had made recommendations to alter a letter written by the governor’s camp to smear Boylan and had intended to ask other former Cuomo aides to sign it. However, David did not end up signing the letter himself and later asked for Cuomo’s resignation following the release of James’ report. David had worked as an aide to Cuomo for nine years, where he pushed for marriage equality and the end to conversion therapy, before leaving to work at the Human Rights Campaign in 2019.

Derek Smith, managing partner at Derek Smith Law Group, which handles sexual harassment and discrimination cases, told NYN Media that it’s actually a crime to retaliate against someone due to harrasment complaints in the state of New York. 

Sources close to the Human Rights Campaign told The New York Times that David did not divulge that he had been advising Cuomo during this time to the organization, nor did he inform them that he would be interviewed for James’ report. 

On Sunday, before the news of his termination had been made public, David alleged that the Human Rights Campaign was trying to “resolve the matter quietly during this holiday weekend,” and that he has “the support of too many of our employees, board members and stakeholders to walk away quietly into the night. I am not resigning.”

David also said that the results of an internal review of his actions had yielded no results and showed no signs of wrongdoing. However, the board’s co-chairs, Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, have disputed David’s claims.

“Yesterday and today, Mr. David released a statement that included significant untruths about the investigation and his status with the organization,” Cox and Patternson said in a statement.

“This decision was made by the full boards of both HRC and HRC Foundation because of Alphonso’s own actions in support of Gov. Cuomo,” they continued. “He alone bears responsibility for what he did and the consequences.”

While David may pursue a lawsuit against the Human Rights Campaign, Smith says it’s unlikely that he’ll have much of a case, as his advising Cuomo appears to be in opposition with the organization’s core values. 

“I'm kind of annoyed with the fact that someone who is an advocate for LGBTQ rights would go out there and advise (Cuomo) on how to retaliate against victims of sexual harassment or discredit them,” Smith said. “It seems that we have an advocate for human rights, who’s going completely against that and he's advising on how to discredit victims of harassment, or even potential victims of harassment. Those things just do not jive together.”

Larry Cary, a founding partner of Cary Kane LLP, a labor and employment firm, told NYN Media, that it’s hard to know how much of a case David might have for a wrongful termination case without seeing his contract but that typically organizations opt for arbitration over lawsuits to settle such matters. “It's more than likely that arbitration is the sole remedy (in David’s case),” Cary said. “If that's the case, there'll be no lawsuits.”

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is the editor of NYN Media.