“Witnesses described Audubon as having a culture of bullying, fear and retaliation, which they said starts with Mr. Yarnold and trickles down,” the Morgan Lewis report said.
The details: Morgan Lewis conducted the audit over 12 weeks and interviewed 111 current and former staff members about the allegations raised in POLITICO’s reporting.
“We received credible witness accounts suggesting that Audubon has a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism toward women and people of color,” the report said. “We received consistent witness statements indicating that white men on the executive team primarily make decisions within the organization; along with dozens of specific accounts suggesting that women on the executive team are not given the same level of autonomy or authority as men are given.”
Morgan Lewis said that nearly all the women and many men interviewed said that “implicit bias toward women and people of color is prevalent at Audubon,” with women who were vocal about needing resources getting snubbed for raises and promotions and receiving more negative performance reviews. They added managers at all levels, including women, “perpetuate an environment that diminishes the contributions of women and people of color.”
The audit also concluded that it is “widely agreed that only a few white males on the executive team have been the primary decision makers with respect to matters of significance to Audubon.”
Morgan Lewis said claims that former employees Devon Trotter and Deeohn Ferris were forced out of their positions were “unsubstantiated,” but noted neither Trotter nor Ferris participated in the review.
In interviews with POLITICO for the November 2020 story that sparked the audit, Trotter said Yarnold threatened his employment if he did not turn over personally identifiable information for an anonymous survey that was critical of the organization’s culture.
Witnesses told POLITICO that Ferris was pushed out of her position leading equity, diversity and inclusion efforts at Audubon. Morgan Lewis said it determined Ferris was “in a somewhat untenable situation,” in which “Mr. Yarnold expected results while he would not support Ms. Ferris’s vision for achieving those results.” The firm did not believe Ferris was forced out of the organization, but that “the same implicit bias that many witnesses believe permeates Audubon impacted Ms. Ferris’s experience as well.”
The probe did not uncover sufficient information to substantiate an allegation that Mr. Yarnold retaliated against a former senior staff member for raising a whistleblower complaint, but did determine that he made “negative” and “inappropriate” statements to an outside recruiter regarding the former senior staff member’s performance.
The law firm also examined “troubling” employee perceptions and concerns that the organization’s HR department fails to investigate complaints or provide recourse. But the probe did not substantiate these allegations, finding nine instances out of about 25 complaints where the complaints were either substantiated or were not substantiated but corrective action or training was recommended, even when the alleged conduct did not violate an Audubon policy and was not illegal.
“But although well-intended, we cannot ignore the reality that numerous witnesses share negative perceptions of HR,” the firm said in its report. “We conclude that HR’s responses to employees have in fact discouraged them from making complaints, although we cannot conclude that it was their intention to do so, or that their responses have been inappropriate.”
What’s next: Audubon is conducting a search for a new CEO while Elizabeth Gray, who joined the organization in March, takes the helm on an interim basis beginning May 15. Audubon also is undergoing a pay equity review.
The audit recommended further changes, such as reorganizing the organizational structure, fully funding human resources and formalizing complaint procedures, pushing forward on equity, diversity and inclusion efforts while hiring a third-party firm to conduct implicit bias training.
“While the Morgan Lewis report did not verify all allegations, it did substantiate a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism towards women and people of color and tolerance of bullying and other bad behavior. This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Audubon board chair Maggie Walker said in a note announcing the report.