The head of the education arm of the Human Rights Campaign has resigned after a colleague reported she twice used a racist epithet in the workplace, according to a report in Politico Playbook on Wednesday.
Politico Playbook — which first exclusively reported the bombshell news report — posted the internal email Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, sent out to staffers on the incident announcing the resignation of Mary Beth Maxwell, who headed up the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
In the memo, Griffin writes Maxwell used the N-word — which he called “harmful and inappropriate language” — in front of a colleague once when telling an upsetting personal story and again when “describing an external situation that they found horrifying, in which racial and homophobic slurs were used.”
After receiving initial findings from an internal investigation on Monday, Griffin writes he suspended Maxwell without pay, then on Wednesday accepted her resignation.
The memo suggests Maxwell didn’t intend to use the word in harmful way because Griffin writes “the lesson learned here is that not having bad intent in using the word does not make it acceptable.”
“I want to be clear: Intent does not matter,” Griffin writes. “It is impact of the word that matters. It is simply never acceptable for that word to be said by an employee in the workplace, period.”
As a result of the situation, Griffin said he sees the need for a formal policy on expectations for staff in responding to or discussing hate speech. That policy, Griffin writes, will be developed within two weeks and incorporated into mandatory staff trainings.
Maxwell came to the organization in 2015 as senior vice president for programs, research and training as well as head of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Prior to that role, Maxwell served in the Obama administration and held various roles in the Labor Department, including principal deputy assistant secretary for policy. In this role, Maxwell was credited for having a lead in pro-LGBT efforts, such as helping draft President Obama’s 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
Early on the in the Obama administration, Maxwell was also said to be in contention as a possible choice as labor secretary and the first openly LGBT Cabinet member, although that role ultimately fell to other appointees.
In the note to staffers shared by Human Rights Campaign Chief Operating Officer Joni Madison and posted by Politico Playbook, Maxwell writes she has “deep regret” about her use of the racist epithet.
“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 realize I should never have said that word out loud,” Maxwell writes.
Maxwell adds she doesn’t want her action or presence at the Human Rights Campaign to jeopardize the organization’s work in support of LGBT rights.
“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,” Maxwell writes.
A Human Rights Campaign spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the Politico Playbook report and the emails to sent to staffers about the Maxwell resignation, but declined to comment further.