Human Rights Campaign headquarters – Photo: RightCowLeftCoast, via Wikimedia.
The head of the Human Rights Campaign’s educational arm has resigned after a colleague claimed she has used the N-word twice in front of a colleague.
In an internal email sent out to HRC staffers on Thursday, HRC President Chad Griffin says Mary Beth Maxwell, the senior vice president for programs, training and research for the HRC Foundation, used the racial slur once when recounting “an upsetting personal story” and a second time when repeating “the word in describing an external situation that [she] found horrifying, in which racial and homophobic slurs were used,” reports Politico.
Griffin wrote in the memo obtained by Politico that Maxwell’s use of the term was “inappropriate and harmful.”
He said that after the allegations were reported, HRC launched an investigation into the incidents in question.
Upon receiving preliminary findings on Monday night, Griffin said he suspended Maxwell without pay. On Wednesday, after receiving the full findings, he accepted her resignation.
“As an organization devoted to achieving equality and stamping out bigotry, we are confronted with hate speech on a daily basis,” Griffin wrote in the memo. “But it’s our job to respond to these incidents in ways that are appropriate and don’t compound the harms done. This situation has crystallized the need for a formal policy on our expectations and requirements of staff in responding to or discussing hate speech.”
Griffin said he has called for that new policy to be instituted within two weeks, and for the policy to be included and reinforced in mandatory staff trainings.
Maxwell, who served in the U.S. Department of Labor under the Obama administration, also wrote a note that was forwarded to all employees via email. Maxwell called her use of the N-word a mistake that “caused harm to people I love and the work that I hold dear” and for which she has “deep regret.”
She wrote: “While in each instance I was conveying something that really happened — in the first I was emotional and scared that it had been said and in the second feeling urgency about addressing a deeply racist and homophobic encounter that a colleague recounted — I should never have said that word out loud. Period.
“I believe in taking responsibility for my mistakes and how my words and actions impact others. I am so proud of the work so many people at HRC are doing and am deeply sorry to damage that or to hurt or disappoint any of you in any way,” she added.
“I do not want my action or my presence to risk jeopardizing HRC’s mission-critical work for the full LGBTQ community. I fully respect and support HRC taking action to make clear that our commitment to a fair and just workplace is unwavering and that each of us must be held accountable for that.”
A longtime HRC observer told Politico that HRC did the right thing.
“HRC has become an effective leader in the alliance of organizations fighting for racial justice. This was the right outcome,” the unnamed source said. “An organization has to live the values it espouses.”
HRC has declined to comment on the internal memo, but confirmed the authenticity of the memos to Politico.