MFA’s Unethical & Illicit Behavior
An Open Letter to Nathan Runkle,
Executive Director of Mercy For Animals
June 30, 2013
It’s been more than 16 months since we last spoke. During the 6-7 years leading up to our final conversation we were close friends and colleagues, working side by side to help make Mercy For Animals (MFA) a powerful voice for the voiceless. I was MFA’s first paid employee, first Director of Investigations, and I sat on the Board of Directors twice. For more than half a decade I gave everything I had to serve the organization’s mission to expose cruelty to farmed animals and encourage the shift to a more compassionate diet.
As you are well aware, the animal protection community is severely outnumbered: we simply don’t have enough people, funding, favorable media coverage, or support from lawmakers to create the widespread change we so desperately hope for. As such, sticking together is vitally important; the vested interests allied against us want nothing more than for activists and organizations to spend their precious resources feuding with each other, rendering us burnt out, divided, and powerless.
It is for this reason that I chose to spend the past 16 months silent about the unprofessional ways you treated me at the end of my tenure with MFA, especially those months after it become clear that I would not be moving to Los Angeles.
MFA has done and continues to do excellent work exposing the inherent violence of the world’s largest animal exploitation industries. I was afraid that were I to expose my experiences with you, the animals would suffer. So I swallowed my concerns, except for those that concerned the treatment of other staff members and supporters, accepted the terms of my “lay off” and tried to move on.
But I couldn’t move on. And it wasn’t until very recently that I finally realized why: I am an animal too; an animal who has dedicated his life, like so many others in the movement have, to helping others. And I deserved better, not just because I was a committed activist but because I had given so much to support you. Your actions toward me were and continue to be unethical. And if I as an experienced and significant individual in the movement couldn’t demand justice for myself, how could I expect others to? I had to speak out, not just for myself but for all of the other kind, dedicated people who were, are, or would be similarly mistreated by you or anyone else in the movement abusing their power. I owed it to them. And I owed it to myself.
The catalyst for this realization came after reading an official statement prepared by two activists you and I had worked closely with in preparation for the launch of a new branch. These two activists, with a wealth of education, experience and connections in the farmed animal protection movement, were inspired by MFA’s model and wanted to bring MFA to their area.
Impressed with their vision, capability and dedication, we enthusiastically agreed. In return for their willingness to organize their lives around this huge endeavor, we agreed to cover related expenses and compensate them for their time as they phased out their other jobs. When their branch was official they were to come on board as full-time employees. While some of these discussions took place outside of my direct supervisory role, at no point was it ever unclear what their roles, hours, work product, pay structure, or future positions with MFA would be.
Despite all of this, after nine months of preparations in good faith, and shortly after the branch was officially launched, these two activists were terminated without notice, explanation, or compensation, despite having phased out their other jobs and income-earning methods, and despite having been “voted in” two weeks earlier (a mere formality, actually) as official employees.
They were cut off from you and pressured to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for less than half of the funds they were rightfully owed. To make matters worse, it appears that you convinced the other people involved with the expansion – friends and allies the main two had brought on board – to turn on them as well, or risk losing MFA’s support for the new branch. Numerous attorneys working on MFA’s behalf urged these two activists to sign a legally binding nondisclosure document and accept what can only be described as “hush money” (money offered in an offensive amount to top it off, given the real amount the two were truly owed in back wages and reimbursements was far greater). MFA pushed them to accept these terms and move on “for the sake of the animals.”
The reason the activists’ statement was so disturbing for me, in particular, was because I had experienced something very similar only a year earlier, but had chosen to stay quiet about it – “for the sake of the animals” – with hopes that your inexcusable behavior toward me was an anomaly. Reading their statement made me realize that scapegoating former staff has clearly become a pattern for you, and that you will do almost anything to get what you want and save face, even if that means bullying and lying to (and about) people who have done nothing to deserve it.
Nathan, I, too, was ostracized and pushed out of the organization by you. I, too, was suddenly cut off, despite years of daily contact. I, too, was pressured to sign a legal document in exchange for compensation I was rightfully owed, and would require in order to stay afloat long enough to find new employment. And I, too, had my reputation smeared, losing friends and allies that I had known and worked with for years. I did nothing to deserve any of it, and fortunately for you, I stayed quiet about it, hoping against hope that you would come to your senses, apologize, and seek to rectify the damage you had done.
But you didn’t. And in the interim, you did the same thing to two other people, also without explanation or apology.
And so I offer this statement, fully willing to provide evidence of my mistreatment if something isn’t done to hold you and the directors who are implicit in your illicit actions accountable.
I have no doubt that you care tremendously about animals, and no doubt that Mercy For Animals has been a very powerful force on their behalf. What I do doubt, however, is the sustainability (and legitimacy) of an organization that allows its leadership to treat its own staff this way. The work we do is too important, and the people we work with too precious, to condone this sort of behavior. It’s bad enough that I never received health insurance, counseling for investigation-related PTSD, or a paid vacation despite working thousands of overtime hours, not to mention years of intensive volunteer work. But to be bullied, ostracized, and maligned after years of such service, and to then find out that two similarly committed and capable activists suffered the same injustice, is just too much for me to stomach. I can’t sit back and let this continue any longer.
My requests of you are as follows:
- Formally apologize for your unprofessional and unjust behavior to the activists I referred to in this statement and to me.
- Identify and retract all false rumors that were spread about the other two former staff members and about me.
- Encourage anyone else with similar grievances against you to come forward with their concerns.
- Create a third party mechanism for accountability and transparency that prevents you or anyone else at MFA from treating current or future staff or volunteers in a similar manner.
- Seek professional psychological assistance regarding this alarming and harmful behavior toward others.
Abuse of power is a concern no matter where it takes place. Left unchecked, it crushes everything in its path, often quietly, since few have the courage to stand in its way. No one, not even the most committed, experienced, and successful activist, should be given so much authority that we assume that said individual’s words and/or actions are automatically just. In this case, it appears that many people turned a blind eye to your behavior for no reason other than that you are powerful and well respected. While I can identify with the urge to protect anyone who serves as a voice for animals, I believe it is my moral responsibility to serve justice first, especially when the victims of injustice have given so much for others and could continue to do so for many years to come. It is with this in mind that I submit this letter to you with hopes you will admit, to yourself, to those you have harmed, and to others, that you made terrible mistakes. It’s the only way for this situation to be resolved in a way that is truly good for the animals and all those who seek to protect them.