In the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit against Houston Humane Society Shelter Director Edward Perez, former HHS employees have told Hair Balls they were driven to quit because of Perez's verbally assaultive behavior, condoned by Executive Director Sherry Ferguson and at least one board member.
Describing Perez's physical stature and their fear of him, the former employees said they would only speak if their names weren't used. In the last year, the HHS has lost two public relations employees, several receptionists, two high-profile animal cruelty investigators, a clinic director, and several intake employees. (Just a note on the physical stature thing: Perez is a big dude, and he's a reserve deputy with Constable Victor Trevino's Precinct 6, which means he carries a gun. However, since the lawsuit was filed in October, Perez has been placed on suspension in the precinct).
Most of the former employees who spoke to Hair Balls were women, and they described Perez as a man allowed by Ferguson to indulge in sexually demeaning jokes and behavior like calling employees "stupid" and throwing a clipboard at an employee during a staff meeting. Some complained of being followed by Perez after work hours and of being pressured to accompany him to long "lunch hours" at various strip clubs. This behavior, per the former employees, was brushed aside by Ferguson as "that's just how Edward is."
After first agreeing to answer questions about these allegations, Ferguson and Perez declined to return phone calls. After speaking with the non-profit's lawyer, Philip McDaniel, Ferguson gave an e-mailed statement denying the allegations in the October 30 lawsuit against Perez, which you can read about here.
We wondered how the HHS's board members felt about these allegations, and about the exodus of talented, dedicated employees. And we're still wondering, because none of them but one would speak to us.
Being a board member of a non-profit is a good gig, especially if you're a socialite, or someone who doesn't like actual "work." The great thing about being on the board of something like the Houston Humane Society is that you can put it on a resume or in some PaperCity-esque blowjob puff-piece, but you don't actually have to take any responsibility once a bunch of employees start leaving because they tend to not like being called "bitch" and having a high-ranking employee reduce them to tits and ass while they're trying to rescue animals.
And really, why would someone like board member Connie Reeves Cooke want to deal with that? She's got novels to write, luncheons to attend, charity ball photos to pose for. That is where her talents lie -- not in having to listen to peons squawk about how some big bearded dude allegedly belittled them to the point where they had to quit (and ultimately file EEOC complaints). That's, like, work and stuff. Eew.
And Keith Thayer. Why should he have to deal with this garbage? He's got his own engineering business to run, and stories about the Iditarod to post on that business's website. Look, he didn't become a board member of the HHS to actually listen to people bitch and moan, he did it because that's what you do when you're a big shot, or a big-shot-in-training. You join a board. Now get off his back, OK?
Same with Tony Roubik. He's busy at his commercial real estate brokerage, Sperry Van Ness. That's lucrative shit. You know what isn't lucrative? Being on the board of a non-profit. It's just vanity stuff, and that doesn't pay for nice things. And going to monthly board meetings and hearing complaints from people in the trenches who you've never actually met doesn't pay for nice things. And returning calls from reporters on why everyone is saying they can't work at the HHS because of an alleged tyrant doesn't pay for nice things.
And there's Beverly Brannan. As far as we can tell, she doesn't have an actual job, so it's not like she doesn't have enough time to actually investigate what the heck is going on at HHS, but, again -- that kind of thing is for lawyers. And besides, if you actually took an active interest, a newspaper story might come out that contains the words "Beverly Brannan," "strip clubs," and "tits and ass" in the same paragraph, and that's just not the kind of thing that decent, civic-minded ladies-about-town open themselves up for.
Now, Jim Griffing has a job -- he's at Griffing & Company, PC. He's a hard-working dude with no time for nonsense. (We couldn't get permission to use his photo, but you can see ol' Jim right here). When we first called, he referred us to Sherry Ferguson. But see, if Ferguson doesn't want to talk to the media (isn't that priceless, by the way, the head of a Humane Society not wanting to talk to the media? Can you imagine? Maybe they should have a PR person speak to the media....too bad they fucking quit) then what do you do? Well, frankly, Jim Griffing doesn't have time for that. He's only on the board of directors. What do you think that means -- he actually has a responsibility to the people who donate thousands of dollars? Uh, have you not been paying attention?
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And there's good ol' Beth Brinkerhoff, the president of the board of directors. Former employees told us that she was one board member who was aware of the allegations, but who (allegedly) laughed them off. Maybe Brinkerhoff enjoys a good "bitch" joke every now and then. We don't know, because she wouldn't talk to us.
Cynthia A.K. Rigoni, a veterinarian (and, strangely for someone on the board of an animal rescue, an animal breeder) was the only one who would speak to us. She didn't have much to say, only that she was sure that all these allegations were hogwash. Which they very well might be. We just hope that they find a new PR director, so they can get back to spreading awareness and getting the name of HHS out there in a non-sexual-harassment-lawsuit manner, and so media outlets can know of adoption drives and successfull animal cruelty investigations, because, you know what? If you don't have a PR director, it's kinda hard to know just what the hell you're doing at HHS, with all those donation dollars. And if the executive director won't tell the public where the money is going, and if the board members can't be bothered to find out where the public's money is going, and why so many employees have quit, then all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that HHS is still in the business of rescuing animals.
(Daniel Marks of diamond merchants I.W. Marks is also a board member, but he told us he was basically absent the last year and a half due to an illness in the family).
If you have any other info about these board members, or about any of the HHS allegations, please let us know. We'll be at the strip club.