National Organization of Women president steps down citing ‘health reasons’ after an investigation finds she ran a toxic work environment – but clears her of racism allegations
- Toni Van Pelt resigned on Sunday, telling staff in an email it was down to health reasons
- She served as president of the National Organization of Women for two years
- Pelt was accused of running racism and misconduct after she won in 2018
- Some of the chapter leaders in the organization said she talked over black women and only ran with her running mate because she was Native American
- They alleged further widespread racism within the organization, which they claimed routinely overlooked people of color
- An investigation was launched into the claims and while it cleared Pelt of racism, it found she ran a ‘toxic’ environment
- Among claims is that she was abrasive, rude and condescending to her staff
- The NOW was founded in 1966 by prominent Washington feminists including Betty Friedman
- The accusers say it was supposed to be a safe space for all women but that it was harsh, toxic and favored white members
Toni Van Pelt stepped down on Sunday, citing health concerns, after an investigation found she ran a toxic work environment at the National Organization of Women
The president of the National Organization of Women stepped down on Sunday night, citing ‘health concerns’, after an internal investigation found she ran a toxic work environment but cleared her of racism, despite allegations from 15 former staff.
Toni Van Pelt sent an email to NOW supporters and members claiming she could no longer ‘ignore’ her doctors wishes and that she had to step down. She did not give details on her apparent health problems.
Ten minutes later, another email went out announcing the results of an internal investigation into allegations against her that she ran a toxic and racist work environment.
The investigation uncovered ‘governance issues and evidence of a toxic work environment’, according to the email, but the many allegations of racism were dismissed.
NOW was founded in 1966 by prominent Washington feminists including Betty Friedman.
But since June this year, The Daily Beast has been detailing the complaints of some within the organization who say it is far from the safe space for women that it purports to be.
When Van Pelt won her position in 2018, some – including the women who ran against her – revolted.
They wrote a letter, calling her racist and giving examples like the fact she’d refused to use a black reverend’s title, instead calling him by his first name, during a panel.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) – ‘a grassroots organization founded in the 1960s with the purpose of promoting feminist ideals, leading societal change, and eliminating discrimination’
They also recounted an incident where she asked her staffers about Pramila Jayapal, a congresswoman, and said: ‘What’s her name? Punjabi?’
The accusers also said it was racist that she’d referred to her social media director, who was Asian-American, as an ‘IT person’and that she talked over women of color in meetings. They did not point out if she ever talked over white women in the same meetings.
One of their biggest complaints is that she only ran with Gilda Yazzie, a Native American woman who she asked to be her vice president, because she was a woman of color.
Dozens of women – including the two who lost to Yazzie and Van Pelt – signed a letter calling for Van Pelt to lose her position after she won it.
Yazzie also filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
She apologized for any remarks she made that caused offense, but they were unsatisfied with it.
‘All Black Lives matter. As a White woman, I’ll never understand the experiences of women of color. I challenge myself to address structural racism and recognize that this is a lifelong, ongoing process.
‘I do understand it is critical to acknowledge my own privilege and strive to be a better ally. As the leader of NOW, and a leader within the intersectional feminist movement, I must hold myself and our organization accountable to do more,’ she wrote at the time.
BJ Star, another woman in the organization, described herself as Asian American when filling out paperwork. She is shown, left, and right in an old picture
Now, members have slammed the investigation and say the organization is still trying to cover up racism.
‘To hear that Toni is stepping down for health issues is offensive.
‘We cannot move forward with restorative justice by covering up racism or making excuses for people to leave,’ said Kim Porteous, one of 26 chapter leaders who have called on Van Pelt to step down.
Van Pelt is now the first woman in the organization to be accused of racism.
In August, BJ Star, 71 – who was running for a seat on the board – filed papers claiming she was Asian-American when she is white.
Gilda Yazzie claims she was racially discriminated against in the organization
Other members of the organization said she was falsely claiming to belong to a minority to improve her election chances.
Among the claims against NOW was that women of color, who joined the organization to become part of a feminist movement, were heckled or talked over whenever they tried to give speeches.
Stephanie Loraine Pineiro, the executive director of the Florida abortion fund, said she was talked over constantly after being invited to speak at a NOW event in 2017.
It’s unclear what the other women did to her that she perceived was racist, or what they said to her, but she emailed the chapter president, claiming she’d been racially discriminated against, and attached a series of documents about white silence.
Barbara Cady, the chapter president, replied calling her an ‘immature girl who wants to blame the world for her bad experiences.
Cady, she said, told her to read a book about slavery and warned: ‘I’m not buying any of this nonsense about “white silence”.
‘You do not know anything about my experience in life and I resent you thinking its OK for you to spout off about race issues to me … Every women [sic] in that room has suffered, even the white ones.
‘I suggest you get off you [sic] high horse and drop this “white women vs women of color” nonsense. We are all in this together, sister.
‘I don’t owe you anything because you believe you have had a certain experience in life from being whatever it is you consider yourself to be.’
Cady also called her one of the most ‘disrespectful’ guests they’d ever had, and asked why she accepted a $25 payment if she was so offended.
She later apologized for her remarks.
The organization did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s inquiries on Tuesday morning about Van Pelt’s resignation or the organization.