The chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States resigned on Friday after sexual harassment allegations against him prompted an uprising from staff and donors.The executive, Wayne Pacelle, who was the face of the Humane Society for more than a decade, had held onto support from a majority of the group’s board, which voted on Thursday to immediately end an investigation into his behavior.
Yet by Friday afternoon, donors and employees of the organization, one of the most prominent animal welfare groups in the nation, were distancing themselves from Mr. Pacelle, condemning the board’s decision and calling for him to leave. In an email to the staff, Mr. Pacelle said late Friday that because “our mission depends on unity,” he was stepping aside to allow a search for a successor to begin.
“I am resigning, effective immediately, to allow that process to move forward expeditiously and to put aside any distractions, in the best interests of all parties,” he wrote.
The resignation of Mr. Pacelle, 52, who was known as a charismatic, aggressive promoter of the Humane Society, capped weeks of tumult that shook the society and its reputation. In December, the organization commissioned a law firm in Washington to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct by Mr. Pacelle. The Washington Post originally reported the allegations, which included complaints from a former intern who said Mr. Pacelle kissed her against her will in 2005, a former employee who said he asked to masturbate in front of her and offered her oral sex in a hotel room in 2006, and a former employee who said he stopped by her office late one night in 2012 and asked her to salsa dance with him.
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Pacelle denied the allegations, and suggested that an investigation into a single complaint from 2005 had expanded into other claims as part of “this coordinated campaign against the Humane Society.”
The chairman of the board, Eric L. Bernthal, attempted to calm the turmoil in an email to staff on Friday before Mr. Pacelle announced he was leaving.
The investigation into Mr. Pacelle’s behavior was not finished when details of it were leaked to the media, Mr. Bernthal said, leading the board to end the inquiry.