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We must do better.

My experiences working at Farm Animal Rights Movement for Alex Hershaft.

TW: sexual harassment, emotional abuse, self-harm and suicide

Timeline

There are many emails and phone conversations that took place before, during and after, I wanted to allow people to take a look for themselves. I will only add context when needed.

For my own experience, I actually informed FARM’s Board of Directors of my experiences of sexual harassment/hostile work environment to them in February of 2018, minus Alex himself. At the time, I was not seeking anything to be done and even asked them all to keep it private. If I’m honest, I was both embarrassed and fearful of retaliation if Alex were to find out and actually didn’t think anything could be done about it.

At the time, I had heard an article was being worked on  (which would eventually be release as “Alex Hershaft: An Animal Rights Pioneer, with a #MeToo Problem“) and was asked if I wanted to add anything to it. I felt it was not my space to share my experiences, so I didn’t; however, I did want the FARM Board to be informed of what I had personally experienced. I was hoping steps would be taken to at least remove Alex from controlling the Animal Rights National Conference, and he was removed as conference chair. This was a positive outcome, and I was somewhat satisfied at the time, so I did not press for more. I believe the Board also thought it was the outcome I desired, so this was their action for my complaint (and from public pressure from the article and Alex’s own posts) and for holding Alex accountable.

I was not aware that my complaint should have been taken more seriously, and I don’t think the Board was aware either. FARM has no sexual harassment policy and no internal reporting procedures. I have now learned that even though I requested it to be private, they actually should have acted on the complaint by opening an investigation.

February 15, 2018

I do not give permission for this email and any information in it to shown or discussed with Alex Hershaft or the public. I would rather it still with each of you as it is very personal to me.

I have been struggling with what to about this information for a few days. I’m in an awkward position, as I still work at FARM (basically the only full-time employee left) and for the conference, yet I was approached for a statement about working with Alex. While I have decided to not release this to the reporter or the public, as I believe it is not my space at this time and that I am unsure about any repercussions, I wanted to share it with you all.

I also wanted to thank you for recent steps taken, I can only imagine how hard it is for everyone involved. This is not how I imagined my week going, or my time at FARM. I feel it is important to share, to both show that there is something to fight for and there are things that are wrong that have happened.

This is just my thoughts put down in a draft and not really refined for anything. I apologize for both the length and lack of revision and editing:

A few weeks after becoming an employee at FARM I was staying late to finish a project. I heard an odd noise coming from downstairs. It was already an awkward working environment, being that it was an office in the house of the founder and president, Alex Hershaft. The noise was coming from his office, my office was located on the 2nd story. I went to the stairs to hear more clearly, and I could make out that it sounded like a woman moaning. I listened longer, to make sure, and I heard slapping, moaning and gagging. It was all coming from Alex’s computer, but it was within work hours, perhaps he had just thought everyone had left. It was a common rule to let him know you were leaving by yelling over to say goodnight. He also has a mirror situated on the wall across from his desk, so that he can see who is coming and going, and for no other reason (or perhaps so people can make sure what he is doing before approaching which we often did).

I continued my normal work, eventually Alex had an issue with his computer that I needed to fix. While fixing it, I discovered a vast amount of pornography related viruses and tabs that had pornography that were left open. I wished to no longer have any dealings with his computer, since it was treated as both his personal computer and work computer. The issue however, was that it was also his work computer. It was the organization’s server, where all the working files were stored and website files. I felt I was never allowed to refuse helping Alex, even if I did it was always intimidating for me to even question saying no if the president and founder of FARM would come and ask for me help.

A year or so into my working at FARM, Alex’s computer had a failure and he had to purchase a new one. I was asked (by him personally) to transfer his personal hard drive to a new larger one. I said it would be no problem and did it. He gave me the old hard drive, the new one and a list of all the folders. Upon further inspection, I found he had given me a hard drive full of pornographic material that he had downloaded. Each folder was a fetish of his, and he wanted to make sure I had accounted for all of them and the contents before giving it all back to him. I followed orders as I always had. I had always felt that with someone with his stature, I couldn’t say no and if I had I said no I was risking my job and livelihood. When Alex decides that someone doesn’t deserve to work at FARM, they are removed, no matter how much the management tries to defend them. He has connections, power, and a reputation in the movement where a lot of people adore his work and dedication to the movement.

Working with a person like Alex is intimidating for everyone. He will do his best to undermine his employees and blame them for not producing even though they are not given clear directions or goals. He has a reputation for this, and of not listening and not caring.

He would have minimized and moved on. He had also positioned himself on the board that was very weak in what they could do, and put the board in an odd place. Even if they wanted to try to force Alex out, there were ample reasons why that would be so hard. Another issue is that the office was in his house with all our resources. Our server which stored historical images, documents and websites along with everything recent that we all worked on together. The storage sheds housed our literature, signs, and conference materials (things to cook with, store things in, laptops, projectors, etc).

Being in Alex’s house posed other issues, like that of living in his house having an office directly across from his personal bed room. On multiple occasions, I was exposed to his fully nude body. On one occasion, we had a meeting at a hotel in which the conference is held. We were running late and no one had seen Alex all morning, the meeting was around 1pm and it was about 12:30pm so I knocked on his bedroom door to wake him. After many knocks, he eventually opened the door. Standing just a foot away from me, he was fully nude. He was groggy and asked me the time and why I was waking him up. I answered and he suggested the meeting was tomorrow, which I corrected and said that it was in fact that day. He said he would get ready and closed the door. A few minutes later, he came back out, this time in his underwear and came into another office to say that we would be late and to try to reschedule the meeting for a later time.

The next time he came into the house, running late for a meeting. I heard him go into his room and turn the shower on (he has his own bathroom). He then opened the door, fully nude and yelled across to another office to let someone know he would be late to a meeting. Instinctively I looked over to the door and saw him. He never acknowledged me seeing him or said anything to me. For this time, I reported it to management and left because I had felt extremely uncomfortable and had an anxiety attack. The next day I informed management and it was brought to Alex’s attention. He suggested that he didn’t even remember doing that and that he would try to not do it again. There were various other times of seeing him, as he often used the office bathroom to shower. I do not believe he ever intentionally did this to me, it was more the nature of working from his house and the office professional and personal lives being too intertwined.

Nonetheless, I was affected by each incident, accident or not and promoted a toxic environment. There was never an acknowledgement by him, an apologize, an excuse, nothing. We simply never spoke of it and acted as if it never happened. I am interested in sharing my story because I am unsure if others saw or heard things that I had before my time at FARM. Also, as a warning to others that might be joining FARM. It was not just me in the office for these instances. Even if I was the only one that experience it, it was never appropriate.

I think that I continue to minimize the effect each of these encounters had on me. As of last year, I started seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants to help calm my anxiety, much related to work. This happened when I last saw him, when I left the office. I had had an anxiety attack and went to the doctor as it was a new experience for me. I believe something in my past that I would rather not share brought up memories. After he was confronted, I worried about my job security, which led to more anxiety. Even if I thought he would not directly fire me, I know how Alex would handle people that he wanted out of FARM.

I know a lot of people would question why, why stay? There are various reasons, a lot is because of the anxiety I experience, even before this. While the staff and management had always spoke highly of me and supported me, Alex Hershaft rarely did, at least for the first 3 years there. I heard him mention one time that he did not think much of me before 6 months ago, and that was around August 2017. I had always felt the pressure and heard him talking about people in his office. His office would be in a normal house the dining room of a house. It was connected to the kitchen with a door but open to the living room. Most things said could be heard throughout the house, so a lot of meetings were overheard. He had considered me adequate and good a googling for solutions. I guess for these reasons I felt down on myself and figured I probably wouldn’t get hired by others. I also have great pride in my work ethic and have made many friends in my co-workers. I believed that in me leaving I would be letting them down.

Earlier in the year, I found out that Alex had wished to hire Nick Cooney to work at FARM. As soon as I had found out, I knew that if that did happen, I would have certainly left, but I started to think about the conference. He had always invited Nick, even with knowing what Nick had done (or accused of doing). Just 3-4 weeks ago, I sent the speaker invites, and Nick Cooney and Paul Shapiro were both on the list. I know Nick declined separately of Alex suggestion they decline (and perhaps even Paul). I believe if they wanted to speak, he would still have tried to find a way to make it happen, until maybe after the more recent events. When I spoke to him, he explained that the movement was pushing out very key players that were responsible for saving millions of animals. He wanted to be the one to save them, so that they wouldn’t be depressed and leave the movement. He likened Nick to Larry Nassar, saying Nick was the “poster child” for this as Nassar was and that if it wasn’t Nick than it would have just been someone else. I did argue a bit with him, as he suggested that Nassar was just the one taking the fall while others were to blame, like the entire system of the USA Gymnastics and University who did nothing but knew. I was concerned with his line of thinking, and thankfully Nick did decline (though noting that he would be happy to join again next year). This is all information from my conversations with Alex and the email account that I help Alex manage (I fwd things for him or answer things that I can to help him).

Thank you all for taking the time to read it, I am comfortable with talking more if wanted. I apologize for putting the weight of this on any of you.

Sincerely,
Ethan Eldreth

I will not be sharing any responses, but they were supportive, believed me and thanked me for alerting them to the issues.

After this email, there were a few attempts that I had made alerting the select members of the Board of possible issues with Alex coming to the Animal Rights National Conference because of his appealing misconduct in the past. He had been removed as a speaker, but I had saught to have him not attend in 2018 and in 2019.

April-July, 2019

I attempted to have Alex’s attendance at the conference seriously considered. I sent the Board a list of misconduct and complaints, including from the 2018 conference as well as everything I had shared with them in 2018 (and then again in 2020). It is my understanding that they did talk with Alex about the issues, and put him on notice for behavior. My request, if they were not going to put their foot down to have him not attend, was at very least to stay with him the entire time. I was told this would not be possible but that if any reports came in they would be available to help.

May 9, 2020

Since I had heard this from the Board – I just want to include this email as my last record of going into the FARM office, which was January 9, 2020. This wasn’t actually the last time, as I was there in March before COVID-19. However, it had been pointed out to me that since I was remote (which happened in 2018) I could not have experienced any issues since being remote. I went in regularly at the request of Alex to fix computer issues, so I was still experience his pornographic materials on his computer regularly.

May 12, 2020

May 21, 2020

I receive the following email from Alex. It was in reference to emails a few staff members had received from an anonymous source. You can read the emails here, as this is what was sent to us later. I suspect this is the same person, as they are using the same name, but do not know.

May 22, 2020

May 25, 2020

I was upset with his response. I did take some time to think about a response and I did decide to confront him.

I wanted to respond, I had wrote something but decided against it. I felt insulted that he point out how private that I am but that I told management. And also, I felt he was blaming me for things continuing. Why I had not talked to him a the time of these things occurring was for many reasons, all which I feel I don’t have to explain.

June 2, 2020

FARM’s social media had post an article supporting black businesses, I noticed it when I was browsing Facebook in the morning. Later, I noticed it had been removed and a few people commenting asking why it was removed. I decided to ask and found out that Alex had requested it be taken down but did not explain why. I emailed him the following:

June 3, 2020

June 4, 2020

June 5, 2020

I gave my two week notice that I would be resigning from my Farm Animal Rights Movement duties so that I no longer had to work with Alex. However, I remained employed to do the Animal Rights National Conference, a program of FARM, thus being an employee of FARM.

June 17, 2020

This was the day that I “officially” sent my complaint. Before this, two board members were aware of the complaint. I had let them know since they had originally been the two that had received my email from 2018. I believe they were trying their best to handle it on their own, but felt the correct course of action was to bring in the rest of the Board members so that it did not rely on just two members.

Following my email, Jen R., the former Director of Operations of FARM and at the time the Chair of the Animal Rights National Conference followed my email with her own:

That same day, two Board members had already planned to speak with Alex because of my complaint and other issues that had been going on regarding Alex making public statements on #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. You can read about that here. The Animal Rights National Conference team was under pressure to do something about Alex’s comments since it was still a program of FARM’s.

June 18, 2020

Jen and I received the following emails in response to the complaints.

June 19, 2020

My complaint was forwarded to Alex, with my permission. I do not know if this was appropriate, though I did feel Alex should know. This was all new to me.

This email was sent as to recap the phone meeting that had occurred with Alex on June 17, 2020.

June 19, 2020

I participated in a conference call with Michael Klapper, Seth Tibbot and Saurabh Dalal at 11:30 pm edt. I felt it was important and this was the time that was open for everyone.

In the meeting, there was  a lot of talking about an independent investigator and what that would entail. Jen and I had pushed for them to hire a 3rd party independent investigator since we felt that the Board as a whole would be able to get a better picture of what had been happening at FARM over the years. We felt that no one on the Board could handle it and that there is no HR person at FARM that could and was also removed from the situation.

The called ended with an agreement on moving forward to hire a 3rd party independent investigator, as long as it was all kept confidential. Seth volunteered to get head the effort to hire the investigator.

June 22, 2020

June 23, 2020

June 25, 2020

June 26, 2020

Context: I was confused here because I this was all new to me and the process wasn’t exactly clear. My confusion mostly came from asking my permission and wording on an email that would be sent to my co-workers.

Later that day I spoke with Seth on the phone, I suggested that he ask the HR firm, CSI, to give input on what he should do to inform the staff. I also asked if it was possible for me to speak with the investigator. He told me it was a good idea for him to ask the HR firm about the email and also said he would ask them about getting my a number to call to speak with the investigator.

Seth did email me, again, the same day, with the contact information for the investigator. I called to ask questions about the investigation, what the process would be, what the email to the staff would be, how long the investigation would take, if past employees would be interviewed, what the parameters of the investigation were and who put those on, and who would get the report.

I had actually let him know at the beginning of the call that this had all been a difficult process for me and that I did not feel particularly safe and was afraid of what Alex might do. I felt this way because of my past experience with Alex, as he would often make it impossible for people to succeed at their job. He would also belittle and bad mouth employees that he was trying to push out or had already left.

June 27, 2020

June 28, 2020

Though Seth had announced the investigation on June 27, 2020, I had actually been informed that Alex had emailed the entire FARM staff on June 26, 2020, naming me as the one that filed a complaint and that there would be an investigator getting in touch with each of them in the next few days.

I sent that email to the investigator and the Board of Directors. I did receive a phone call later that day from a Board member expressing how they were sorry Alex had done that and also trying to figure out how to keep from canceling the virtual conference we had been working on.

June 29, 2020

This was the day of the interview with the investigator. We had 1 hour to discuss everything, I tried to get everything out that I could but did feel pressed for time toward the end.

June 30, 2020

At this point I was still concerned about the investigation and the restrictions put on the investigation. I had hoped for a fulsome investigation. I emailed the investigator to see the Board had approved of interviewing past employees.

July 1, 2020

I expressed my concerns about the investigation, including the scope and the time limit.

The final decision to cancel the Animal Rights National Conference Virtual Event had happened earlier, and I informed Seth and Saurabh.

July 7, 2020

This is the date I was informed would be a FARM Board meeting. The investigator’s goal was to have the report to the Board before the 7th, or at least a summary so they could review it.

July 8, 2020

The investigator informed me that the Board meeting had been postponed and that they had also approved to him to interview additional people.

July 9, 2020

July 17, 2020

The new executive director reached out to me, I believe this was the first time in this capacity. He had not started yet but was going to soon.

July 20, 2020

I indicated my concerns and his response was that he basically knew, as I had also told him when he was my manager.
After these emails, I decided to follow up once again about my concerns about the investigation:

I sent the same email (above) to the Board, including my initial email stating my concerns from July 1, 2020.

July 21, 2020

July 22, 2020

July 27-30, 2020

August 4, 2020

In the above mentioned meeting (last email on the July 30, 2020) which happened on July 31, 2020, Seth and Saurabh went over some of the things that were discussed and adapted by the Board in the July 21, 2020 Board meeting. At the beginning of the call, I did ask if they would let me record it so I wouldn’t have to take notes, one of them was not OK with it, which I respected and did not record. They also asked me to send a task list of what I had been doing since June 19, 2020 when I had stopped my FARM duties.

August 5, 2020

August 7, 2020

August 9, 2020

August 14, 2020

August 15, 2020

August 16-17, 2020

This was in reply to my resignation on Friday, August 14, 2020.

It had become evident to me since I received the above email from Eric that the Board had not notified Alex or Eric that I had resigned. Thus, I asked them the following day to notify them for me as I did not think it was fair and honestly Eric’s email was insulting to me.

August 18, 2020