HSUS CEO’s Assistant Sued for Defamation
This month, we revealed a leaked transcript showing an apparent insider conversation concerning sexism at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
We now have much more to the story.
The April 2017 conversation we revealed was between an HSUS staff attorney and Crystal Moreland, then special assistant to HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle. The conversation pertained to sexism inside HSUS. As we wrote, it provided evidence that HSUS’s legal staff knew about potential issues in the workplace in April 2017. This is important because in December 2017, based on an anonymous complaint, the HSUS board of directors opened an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Pacelle. This set off a scandal in which the investigation was leaked to the press, the board controversially closed the investigation, and Pacelle resigned. Yet if HSUS’s legal staff, including its general counsel, knew about hostile workplace issues months earlier, that would have serious ramifications.
Now we can reveal that Moreland herself is the defendant of a defamation lawsuit.
The plaintiff, Jeffrey Thomas, Jr., is a former employee of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the lobbying affiliate of HSUS. The two organizations shared office space. Thomas alleges that he began working for HSLF in early 2017 and struck up a friendship with Moreland, whom the lawsuit says was effectively in a supervisory role over him.
The suit recounts how he and Moreland became platonic friends, but he believed Moreland made several romantic passes at him, which he rejected. The suit reprints alleged communications between him and Moreland to back up this claim.
Here’s where the plot thickens:
Complaints of Mr. Pacelle that Thomas reported to Moreland on or about April 5, 2017 included that Thomas believed Pacelle behaved in an inappropriate, sexist manner toward women in the workplace. Moreland spent about twelve hours a day around Pacelle, and frequently traveled with him. On or about April 10, 2017, Thomas also reported to his supervisor, Sara Amundson, then-Vice President of HSLF, his belief that Mr. Pacelle was engaged in inappropriate, sexist behavior towards women in the workplace. Ms. Amundson said that she herself had “dated” Mr. Pacelle, and that she believed Moreland and Pacelle had a “co-dependency.” On or about May 10, 2017, Pacelle emailed Thomas to ask him to come to Pacelle’s office. Thomas entered the office and Pacelle stated that he had heard that Thomas had concerns over sexual harassment in the organization. Pacelle claimed that the organization was taking measures to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Thomas never heard anything else about his concerns from Moreland, Amundson, Pacelle, HR, or anyone else at the organization until Moreland would report Thomas to HR in September 2017 and falsely accuse Thomas of making inappropriate criticisms of Pacelle.
Fast forward to fall 2017. Thomas says he was informed by HR that Moreland had filed a complaint against him, initially that he had made disparaging remarks about Pacelle. Thomas claims that Moreland then changed her story to “invent” allegations that Thomas made her feel intimidated in the workplace and had repeatedly asked her out to lunch and dinner. “Moreland invented these and similar bizarre allegations in order to falsely portray Thomas as a stalker and get him fired,” the lawsuit claims.
In fact, Thomas says it was Moreland who repeatedly asked him out, and provided communications (reprinted in the lawsuit) to HSUS’s HR department showing this.
To no avail: He says he was terminated from his job, despite providing evidence to HR that he says clearly showed Moreland’s claims were untrue.
He alleges that “Moreland wanted to protect Mr. Pacelle, with whom Moreland had a unique ‘co-dependency,’ according to Ms. Amundson, from allegations of inappropriate sexist behavior towards women that later led to Pacelle’s termination.” (Pacelle married former Al Jazeera host Lisa Fletcher in 2013, and previously had a live-in girlfriend who was an HSUS employee.)
Read the complaint here. And then read the apparent texts in April 2017 between Moreland and an HSUS legal staffer.
We’re not sure if Moreland is still employed by HSUS. After she served as Pacelle’s assistant, she became the state director for California, a job that is now held by someone else.
The lawsuit seeks nearly $3 million from Moreland. Stay tuned for more developments in this case as we learn them.