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Report: Internal Hostilities at the Animal Legal Defense Fund

Over the past few years, we’ve covered several reports alleging that “humane” groups don’t treat their staff well. There’s the infamous case of Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle being accused of sexually harassing staff for years. Then there was Paul Shapiro, Pacelle’s lieutenant, accused of creating a hostile work environment. Then there were allegations concerning leadership at Mercy for Animals and Farm Animal Rights Movement.

And now, there’s the Animal Legal Defense Fund, where allegations are flying around following a unionization campaign opposed by management.

A new report by Prism outlined what some employees called a “toxic work culture” that flourished at the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in the past several years.

A whistleblower going by the pseudonym of “Dylan” alleges a pattern of gender discrimination a hostile work environment caused by the organization’s leadership. Dylan told Prism that they got into a six-month back and forth with their manager over the use of pronoun email signatures, which ended with their manager ultimately telling them “anyone who [lists their pronouns in an email signature] might be fired.” Other staffers at the time also confirmed to Prism that they too had attempted to change their email signatures to include pronouns, but were directed by ALDF’s communications director to only use approved signature formats, none of which allowed for pronouns.

“I was the first out trans person that worked there…they really weren’t a comfortable or safe space for trans people and didn’t know how to work with that … There was this big fear that if you spoke out that you’d be fired. And you couldn’t do anything about that,” said Dylan.

The report also noted a significant hostility towards organized labor and unionization efforts in the ALDF.

In late 2020, ALDF employees formed a union organizing committee, and sought recognition from company management. Management, however, opposed them at every turn, refusing to recognize the union voluntarily. ALDF’s director of litigation, Carter Dillard (remember him?), released a statement about the unionization conflict which stated:

“I believe that a detailed analysis could show that management spent more resources opposing the union over the past several years than developing policies that effectively help animals.” 

An anonymous source to Prism also claimed ALDF management created a special unit called “scrum” with the mission of handling union issues, and that the unit spent much of its time working on strategies to delay and decertify the ALDF union.

Another former staffer described a culture of fear of retaliation created by the management, saying:

“They were really clever in instilling an environment of fear. I just felt the tension, and it was so manipulative … It was just like, mentally exhausting.”

The ALDF employees eventually managed to win their unionization election, and contract negotiations are currently ongoing. With enough of these situations at animal rights groups, we have to ask: Does someone need to form a Human Legal Defense Fund?