Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle Accused of Sexual Harassment by 3 Women

An internal investigation by a law firm hired by the Humane Society of the United States has identified three complaints of sexual harassment by chief executive Wayne Pacelle and found that senior female leaders said their warnings about his conduct went unheeded, according to two people familiar with the matter and a Humane Society memo describing the investigation.

The investigation also found the nonprofit agency, one of the country’s biggest animal charities, had offered settlements to three other workers who said they were demoted or dismissed after reporting Pacelle’s alleged behavior, according to the Humane Society memo.

Investigators from the law firm Morgan Lewis, who interviewed 33 people, including Pacelle, also reported that there was a perception within the Humane Society that certain women owed their career success to romantic relationships with the chief executive.

The memo said that several women who were former leaders of the group had warned Pacelle, who has led the organization since 2004, that his sexual relationships with subordinates, donors and volunteers could hurt the charity. The memo notes that Pacelle, while not directly addressing the issue, said he had changed his behavior as he grew older.

Pacelle denied the complaints from all three women in an interview Monday with The Washington Post. “This is a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization,” he said. “And I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward.”

He denied allegations he had consensual sex with donors and volunteers as “just ad hominem attacks.” And he said no senior women had warned him about his conduct. “Absolutely not. I enjoy the support of senior women throughout the organization. No one has ever warned me of such a thing, ever.”

A spokesperson for the Humane Society declined to comment on the findings of the investigation, referring The Post to a statement made Thursday by Eric Bernthal, chairman of the organization’s board of directors. His remarks came shortly after the charity announced it was launching an investigation.

“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 decision to launch an investigation was first reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Pacelle said that he was aware of the investigation but added: “There are allegations only. Beware of rumors and other unsubstantiated claims.”

The earliest complaint against Pacelle dates to 2005, when an intern said the chief executive asked to meet outside of work at a public coffee shop, according to the memo reviewed by The Post.

According to her account, Pacelle pulled her close, started slow dancing with her and gave her an unwanted kiss, the investigation document said.

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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune; The Washington Post, Danielle Paquette