“The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Laura McQuade, has proven to be a toxic leader and autocrat, and we, the current and former staff of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, write this letter to demand her immediate removal.”
The letter noted: “Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman. That is a part of history that cannot be changed…We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve.”
Planned Parenthood staffers also stated that Planned Parenthood’s minority employees “have worked tirelessly under the thumb of White Supremacist Agenda.”
The largest abortion group was founded by Margaret Sanger with board members (including a Ku Klux Klan leader), who started the infamous “Negro Project” and recommended that parents obtain licenses to bear children.
From other Planned Parenthood groups around the nation:
Planned Parenthood’s “systemic racism” was recently acknowledged by Planned Parenthood Greater Washington and North Idaho on Twitter: “White supremacy and systemic racism permeate every American institution – including Planned Parenthood. We must reckon with the history of Planned Parenthood and that of the larger reproductive rights movement….”
Planned Parenthood Action New Hampshire published a similar admission, writing in part: “We know that systemic racism isn’t limited to police departments… It’s in our institutions, including Planned Parenthood… We need to examine how white supremacy of the past and present continues to reverberate in the institutions we are a part of today — including Planned Parenthood.”
Details of letter:
June 18, 2020
The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Laura McQuade, has proven to be a toxic leader and autocrat, and we, the current and former staff of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, write this letter to demand her immediate removal.
We are expressing our profound lack of confidence in Laura McQuade, our Chief Officers, and our Board of Directors. In her two-and-a-half year tenure, McQuade has created a culture of fear and intimidation; we have witnessed her cull dissenters and surround herself with enablers. Through abusive behavior and financial malfeasance, we have watched her fundamentally threaten the fiscal and operational viability of Planned Parenthood’s largest affiliate and its 900 employees.
We are deeply committed to maintaining access to abortion and sexual and reproductive health care; while acutely aware of the political landscape, we have experienced firsthand how constant public scrutiny perpetuates a culture of silence within reproductive health organizations. This has allowed our leadership to stoke fear that public expression of internal dysfunctions might threaten access to care.
Over the past 18 months, staff have worked tirelessly to resolve the following issues internally by meeting with senior leadership and reaching out to our Board of Directors. Our many efforts to elevate our voices were met with silence, indifference, and an increasing disregard for staff wellbeing. We wanted change; all we got was pizza. After long and thoughtful consideration, we view this as our final chance to force the change that Planned Parenthood of Greater New York desperately needs not only to survive but to thrive. We do not speak out lightly.
Dozens of staff members have witnessed McQuade yell, berate, slam her fists, verbally abuse, humiliate, and bully employees, often brutally shaming staff members in internal meetings in front of their colleagues. This behavior is out of line for anyone, let alone the CEO of a “progressive” organization. After countless complaints, a law firm was hired by the board to investigate these allegations. The firm interviewed staff members at all levels, including senior leaders, many providing documented evidence of this pattern of behavior. The cost of this, and other investigations into her behavior, was likely significant and has led to no positive organizational change.
Under McQuade and with budgets approved by the Board, the organization has lost the 18 million dollar surplus she inherited and replaced it with a 2020 projected deficit of 6.2 million dollars for the first six months, well before the COVID-19 crisis. It’s not our place to determine if her actions were illegal, but the distribution of highly-paid contracts and consultant opportunities to close contacts challenges the integrity of our CEO and many Chief Officers.
Racism and Weaponizing of the Work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Against Staff
Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman. That is a part of history that cannot be changed. While efforts have been made to undo some of the harm from institutional racism, many of these issues have worsened under McQuade’s tenure. After years of complaints from staff about issues of systemic racism, pay inequity, and lack of upward mobility for Black staff, highly-paid consultants were brought in three separate times to assess the situation. Each time, employees of color were brutally honest about their experiences, but nothing changed. It is not possible to do justice to the scope and gravity of this issue here. Black women and other staff of color created a space to speak directly to their experiences. Please take the time to read.
When diversity and equity are weaponized to make changes that are harmful to staff it diminishes the value of these very important areas of change. We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve.
Decimation of Institutional Knowledge Due to Unprecedented Rates of Staff Turnover
McQuade’s time at PPGNY has been defined by constant staff departures. Under her leadership, 23 members of senior staff have quit or been forced out. Many of these colleagues had 10-20+ years of experience with our affiliate. Others were people hired by McQuade directly to newly created positions who left mere months into their roles. This high amount of turnover has had a destabilizing effect on the organization. The loss of institutional knowledge is so profound as to be detrimental to every aspect of the organization. View a comprehensive list of departures here.
While upper management has been plagued with a steady rotation of new staff, we’ve seen a high level of turnover at every level as long-time employees have left in despair or been eliminated or outsourced. Early on, McQuade outsourced PPNYC’s internal call center, eliminating an entire department of primarily Black and Latina women, to an external company run by her close friend. PPFA warned PPNYC leadership that this call center would not be able to handle PPNYC’s volume. These warnings went unheeded and sure enough, this outside service has cost substantially more and been significantly less effective than our internal call center. PPGNY cannot even keep up with the payments. McQuade has further used the current national crisis to continue layoffs that have left skeleton crews of clinical workers to care for the people of New York.
The COVID-19 Crisis at PPGNY
Like most organizations across the country, COVID-19 changed the landscape of PPGNY’s financial future. However, when forced to reconcile with PPGNY’s new financial reality, McQuade chose to protect only herself and her Chief Officers. Instead of keeping staff up to date in the ever-changing landscape, the gravity of the situation was shrouded in secrecy. Without warning, three weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, McQuade sent an email to all staff announcing imminent layoffs and furloughs affecting 250 employees, or 28% of total staff. She cited that the original 2020 projected 10 million dollar deficit was now projected to be 20-32 million dollars. Instead of salary cuts at the top of the organization, a tactic employed by many during COVID-19, McQuade immediately laid off 134 employees and furloughed another 100. Those 100 people were told that they would be furloughed through June 30th and informed of their recall status by June 1st. As of today, these employees have not directly received any substantive updates from PPGNY.
In an all-staff (virtual) town hall on May 8, 2020, Laura told us that “not one stone was left untouched,” in regards to strategies to reduce costs and save jobs, but when questioned in a meeting for directors about cuts to her salary and of the salaries of her Chief Officers, she said “it would not have let us keep the strongest people with us moving forward.” We would argue that our “strongest people” are quite weak if they cannot stomach a temporary salary cut in the best interests of the organization for which they serve.
The Future of PPGNY
We have been inspired and emboldened by national movements led by Black people holding organizations and institutions accountable and working to dismantle systems of oppression and white supremacy.
We reject what we view as McQuade’s Trumpian leadership style and envision a Planned Parenthood where all our staff, in particular our Black and other staff of color are honored for their expertise and included in the decision making process.
In order to salvage the organization, we demand:
The immediate removal of Laura McQuade as CEO of PPGNY and all leadership who enable her directly or who are complicit through inaction
2. Salary cuts to all PPGNY Chief Officers making over $100,000 per year
3. A thorough, independent investigation into our above mentioned allegations of abuse and financial malfeasance
4. A new independent, external, experienced leader, hired by an independent, expert party, in close cooperation with staff and centering our patients and the communities we serve, to take control and help restore and improve upon the organizational culture of all of our legacy affiliates
These demands are just the first steps of moving toward real change.
We are calling on current and former colleagues of conscience to stand with us to save Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. We are also asking for community members, patients, donors, all who believe in reproductive justice, abortion rights and the integrity of equitable healthcare to stand with us.