In Amended Lawsuit, Edwina Rogers Accuses Richard Dawkins and Others of Retaliating Against Her July 16, 2015

In Amended Lawsuit, Edwina Rogers Accuses Richard Dawkins and Others of Retaliating Against Her

A couple of months ago, I posted in detail about a lawsuit filed by Edwina Rogers (below) against her former employers at the Secular Coalition for America.

The lawsuit alleged that SCA leaders wrongfully terminated Rogers and then made defamatory statements about her to the press. They were motivated, the document said, by “petty jealousies and naked ambition.”

The SCA, along with individuals named in the lawsuit, denied the allegations. They would have been issuing a formal response very soon.

Why bring this up now?

Last week, Rogers filed an amended version of her lawsuit in court.

Now, in addition to everything she said before, Richard Dawkins is named as a Defendant and the lawsuit includes events that have transpired over the past two months, mostly regarding the withering of the Secular Policy Institute (Rogers’ current organization) since the lawsuit was filed.

Other than minor sentence changes, here’s what the lawsuit includes that wasn’t there before:

1) There’s a claim that the Richard Dawkins Foundation took money that was raised for Doctors Without Borders and kept it for itself:

Plaintiff [Rogers] discovered charitable donations solicited over several years to support Doctors Without Borders’ response to specific natural disasters instead were deposited into the Foundation’s operating account. That account was used for, [among other things], Dawkins’ and his Foundation’s legal fees and other non-charitable purposes.

Plaintiff retained a forensic accounting firm to assure that the converted funds would be repaid and forwarded to the charity. When Plaintiff returned to SCA full time, this work was ongoing.

2) There’s a claim that the Defendants “threatened to incite mass resignations” among organizations/people associated with the Secular Policy Institute unless Rogers “dismissed this lawsuit.”

When [Rogers] refused to submit to Defendants’ blackmail, Defendants made good on their threat: they communicated with major SPI donors and Fellows and urged them to withdraw support and/or resign from SPI. As a result, SPI’s viability and funding base have been eroded, jeopardizing Plaintiff’s position and interfering with her employment agreement. Defendants’ retaliation against Plaintiff is the basis for amendment of her Complaint.

3) Specifically, Rogers says Dawkins “enlisted Daniel Dennett and Michael Shermer to assist in retaliating against [her] by damaging her employment relationship with SPI.”

Dawkins, Shermer, and Dennett communicated in person and by email with SPI donors and Fellows and urged them to resign from SPI unless Plaintiff dismissed this litigation. According to former SPI Fellow Michael Shermer, Dawkins “ordered” him to deliver the same message to other SPI Fellows. Upon information and belief, Dawkins, Shermer, and Dennett did not disclose their affiliation with SCA while conveying disapproval of Plaintiff and implying wrongdoing on Plaintiff’s part.

Beginning on June 11, 2015 Plaintiff received emails from SPI Fellows and donors resigning or threatening to resign as a result of this litigation, including: Dawkins, Dennett, Shermer, Steven Pinker, James Thompson, Rebecca Goldstein, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, Ron Lindsay, Stephen Law, Phil Zuckerman, Wendy Kaminer, and Peter Boghossian. Each and every resignation was caused by Dawkins and SCA in retaliation for Plaintiff’s filing and refusing to dismiss this litigation.

In addition, SPI has lost fifteen member organizations due to these Defendants’ actions.

Heavy stuff.

So let’s go through these allegations one by one.

Regarding the Doctors Without Borders fundraiser, the RDF began that campaign in July of 2012 (as part of a larger program called Non-Believers Giving Aid, which began earlier). The website specifically said:

All donations that the Richard Dawkins Foundation receives via Non-Believers Giving Aid will be donated to Doctors Without Borders — nothing is removed for overhead. Please help us with whatever you are able to give.

By November of 2013, donations to Doctors Without Borders were helping those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Today, the Giving Aid website no longer exists.

I asked Robyn Blumner, the current Executive Director of RDF, and Dawkins himself about these allegations. But before I post his response, it helps to understand the other points made in the lawsuit.

What’s the deal with the allegations that Dawkins directed people to leave the Secular Policy Institute?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve contacted several of the Fellows who resigned from SPI. A number of them told me their primary motivation for resigning was not that Dawkins told them to leave, but that they never agreed to join the SPI as Fellows in the first place. Once they realized this, they asked to be removed from the list.

Why the confusion? It appears that at least some of them said yes to becoming Fellows of the “Secular Global Council” (an SCA program) when Rogers was the Executive Director there… but they were unaware of the Secular Policy Institute and did not agree to join a group that was separate from the SCA. (A lot of the policy recommendations at the Secular Policy Institute were identical to the SCA Policy Guide, which Rogers also oversaw, which may explain the confusion.)

Daniel Dennett told me: “I didn’t know I was a Fellow of SPI until I saw my picture and name on the website.”

Dawkins added: “I have no recollection of how I [came] to be on the [SPI Fellows] list in the first place.”

You can read more of the backstory about SCA, SPI, and the Secular Global Council here.

While I can’t speak as to why more than a dozen member organizations left SPI, one of them was American Atheists. The group’s Legal and Public Policy Director Amanda Knief told me, “American Atheists ended its affiliation with the Secular Policy Institute for reasons having nothing to do with Richard Dawkins, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, or because of the Secular Coalition for America.”

In response to the amended lawsuit, the Secular Coalition for America’s current Executive Director Kelly Damerow told me:

We look forward to replying in full when we file our response by the end of the month.

She also reiterated what she said a couple of months ago:

The SCA is disappointed that Ms. Rogers chose to file this complaint. The SCA denies Ms. Rogers’ allegations that it has taken any unlawful actions against her. SCA has retained legal counsel and intends to vigorously contest this lawsuit.

But what about Dawkins and whatever was happening with those donations? He issued this statement to me earlier today:

I am being sued in federal court in Washington, DC by Edwina Rogers, the former executive director of the Secular Coalition for America and the former interim executive director of and paid consultant for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. She posits a number of allegations with regard to my resignation as a fellow from the Secular Policy Institute (SPI) where Rogers works as CEO.

In fact, I never agreed to be a fellow of SPI in the first instance. Who knew that in America a person could be sued for leaving an organization of which one was never a willing part and telling close friends about it?

My concern is and has always been the wellbeing of the secular movement. I have devoted a substantial proportion of my personal resources and, of course, my time, to ensuring the movement’s health, and any action I took with regard to SPI was in furtherance of that goal.

I will be defending against this lawsuit and its baseless claims with all vigour. But there is an element of the suit I would like to directly address. It involves a former program of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.

Non-Believers Giving Aid was a program of the foundation from 2010-2014. Since 2010, the NBGA program resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations sent to NGOs devoted to providing humanitarian assistance around the world.

During a period of transition for the foundation in 2013-2014, Rogers served as interim executive director until we brought on Robyn Blumner as our permanent executive director in Feb. 2014. During this time the NBGA program was ended for three primary reasons, 1) Concerns arose about the program’s management that had to be further reviewed, 2) Another organization, Foundation Beyond Belief, was effectively doing the work of NBGA, and 3) The organization decided to focus on its core mission, the promotion of scientific literacy and secularism.

Under Blumner’s leadership, we hired a team of accountants and legal counsel to answer our concerns about the NBGA program. The team’s job was to ensure that the foundation fulfilled all its legal obligations under NBGA and ethical obligations to its donors and NGO beneficiaries. We followed the team’s advice, with me personally providing whatever resources were needed, and are confident we are in full compliance with all financial, legal and ethical obligations, and that we run the foundation in accordance with sound fiscal management practices.

Since the start of 2014 the foundation has launched the Openly Secular campaign with other secular groups, to reduce the social stigma surrounding nonbelievers by getting secular people to be more vocal about who they are, it launched the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, to help middle school teachers teach evolution to their students, and executed a number of other groundbreaking projects to promote science and secularism.

I am deeply proud of the foundation’s work, look forward to continuing it and do not intend to allow a baseless lawsuit to divert my attention or focus.

A formal response from all the Defendants is expected soon.

***Update*** (7/21): Edwina Rogers issued a statement in response to this post. I am including it here, unedited. As of July 24, I included the full text of Dawkins’ email.

Your blog has been forwarded to me and I read the statement by Richard Dawkins with concern. I am only writing to correct the record at this time. Richard’s resignation email from SPI, however (copied below), gives clear lie to the revisionist history that is now emerging, that he somehow never knew that he was an SPI Fellow. Even his resignation letter acknowledges his status as an SPI Fellow, so it is disingenuous for anyone to suggest otherwise at this point. I am so sorry for his apparent dishonesty in this regard, and that it has implicated others as unwitting apologist for his deception and has caused other previous Fellows to now claim this new false position. I have their written statements also. Please accept my apology on their behalf and feel free to contact me directly in the future to do fact checking.

It is no easy thing when those we admire or respect act in ways that violate the esteem with which we hold them. I honestly do not know why Richard has encouraged resignations among the SPI Fellows (most of whom have ignored him, fortunately), refused to disclose his conflict of interest as a sitting member of the Advisory Board of SCA, declined to meet to sort this out, and is now promulgating a perspective that he himself acknowledges as untrue (in writing nonetheless). In time he will be forthcoming and, I hope, apologetic for the injury he has inflicted on a wide range of individuals, including me, who share his dedication to the development of a more rational and reasoned world and have done absolutely nothing to injure him in any way whatsoever. I am hopeful that Richard will simply acknowledge his mistakes, apologize for his public protest of me exercising my civil rights and his aggressive actions to injure me and my employer. I remain steadfastly committed to allowing due process to unfold within its appropriate regulatory and legal channels. I will note that Richard did not protest the regulatory complaint that has been with the Department of Labor for 13 months now. I guess his position is that employment regulatory complaints are acceptable but judicary ones should not be allowed.

We tied mightily to keep Richard out the wrongful termination law suit. But he would not stop his injurious behavior, or even acknowledge the legal cease-and-desist letter he received that was designed to signal to him that he was bringing himself into harm’s way by engaging in tortious interference.

Definition From Wiki Page — Tortious interference with contract rights can occur where the tortfeasor convinces a party to breach the contract against the plaintiff, or where the tortfeasor disrupts the ability of one party to perform his obligations under the contract, thereby preventing the plaintiff from receiving the performance promised. Tortious interference with business relationships occurs where the tortfeasor acts to prevent the plaintiff from successfully establishing or maintaining business relationships. This law has been around nearly 400 years in our common law society.

If Richard had allowed due process to unfold in its appropriate, lawful manner, he would never have been involved in the legal action (he was not a party in the original suit) and he would never have had to manufacture the false claims that he is now making.

I do not share Richard’s appraisal of our rights to due process in the lawful expression of our grievances. I regard the exercise of our civil liberties neither as a diversionary distraction nor as a destructive influence within our society. To the contrary, I regard them as essential elements of a free society, elements that should be affirmed and supported, rather than denied or protested, at every turn.

Moreover, I believe that if any of us had our retirement monies misappropriated by our employers — a fact that SCA readily acknowledges in relation to me — we would feel fully entitled to seek recovery. And I trust that no one would think poorly of us for our efforts to seek justice, nor would they stand in the way of our doing so. And least of all any of us within the secular community who are so strongly dedicated to social justice, due process, and the preservation of civil liberties and legal rights.

Richard’s resignation and the aggressive solicitation of resignations of all other Fellows (even those unfamiliar with him) from my employer suggest an appraisal of a familiarity with the facts in the case beyond what the court will have at its conclusion. Also it suggest that he is above the law. The activities continued after we were sure he was aware of the law. I personally sent him numerous very respectful emails explaining tortious interference and asking him to not pursue other Fellows. The resignations track perfectly with his travels in the U.S. in June. One need only to look at the list of speakers at each of his stops to predict the resignations. Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins even researched to find the email addresses of Fellows unknown to them.

SCA has engaged in demonstrably injurious behavior and is on record as both saying things that are patently untrue and denying things that are true.

I even doubt that Richard has made a breezy assessment nor an idle appraisal of my performance and termination while at SCA; but he is acting out of a concealed conflict of interest to punish me and other innocent bystanders as well as my employer SPI.

The discovery process has not even begun yet. So there is no way that I would rush to judgment regarding the outcome of events that can only be determined by the duly authorized agents and processes that are charged with adjudicating them. Anyone who does otherwise is surely acting on the basis of hubris or prejudice rather than information or reason, given that the full rage of information and evidence has yet to be discovered, revealed, or shared.

Richard’s resignation letter appears disrespectful and dismissive to someone who has been injured. Surely it might feel to me as if he were encouraging me to “take one for the team” without bothering first to either take stock of the full measure of the injury or to respect the regulatory and legal channels that are the rightful contexts for handling them.

I believe that none of us are above reproach and we should all be accountable for our actions. I very much value the Secular Coalition for America, but I would never want it to trammel the rights of an individual seeking justice in relation to any wrongdoing they might have perceived themselves as having experienced as a result of their actions. It is essential that the Secular Coalition for America uphold the highest standards of conduct, and that we all hold them accountable in relation to those standards. Otherwise we risk transforming the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) into the Sacred Cow of America (SCA), which would constitute a perverse irony in relation to a movement that places a premium on reason and science over authority or autocracy as valid bases for societal decision making and advancement. After all, how could we ever hope to move closer to a more rational and just society by protesting or denying someone their rights to express their grievances in a lawful manner in relation to the duly authorized channels of authority that are designed to adjudicate them?

I hope this statement underscores the importance of us having, and exercising, our civil liberties. Otherwise we might all become unwitting victims of organizations and authorities we very much value and trust but that are nonetheless themselves capable of making mistakes or engaging in abuses. Only access to transparent mechanisms of due process provide us with protections against such things in support of the more reasoned and rational world we are trying to promote.

The Dawkins email said:

Dear Edwina

We need the Secular Coalition for America. It was founded by Herb Silverman with the very best of intentions, and under its present regime it is again following his original noble plan. Your proposed lawsuit can do no good, and achieve nothing but damage to a vital part of our movement.

Accordingly I have no choice but to resign from SPI. Please remove my name from your list of Fellows and stop using my name and image for SPI purposes.

Yours sincerely

Richard Dawkins

***Update 2*** (7/24): Edwina Rogers issued this statement about Non-Believers Giving Aid. Again, I am including it here, unedited:

Rogers Statement On Non Believers Giving Aide (NBGA) — I discovered in December 2013 in my role as Executive Director that the Richard Dawkins Foundation, through their NBGA project and separate website had been collecting checks and website donations for numerous natural disaster campaigns (Earthquake in Haiti; Floods in Iran; Tornados in Oklahoma, Typhoon in Philippines, etc.) for over 3 years and 9 months and just kept and spent the funds. The funds were not sent to Doctors Without Boarders as the NonBelievers Giving Aide website promised. Instead, they were retained and spent by the Dawkins Foundation.

There is easy, public proof of what I am saying. Just examine the 990 tax returns for 2011 and 2012 and everyone can see that the Dawkins Foundation kept and spent the donated funds on other purposes and none of the NBGA funds were forwarded to the promised beneficiary. Richard was, and still is, the Chairman of the Board of his private foundation and by the time I discovered what Richard was doing the natural disaster campaigns were over so the funds could not reach, for example, the Flood Victims in Iran as promised.

In December 2013, when I discovered the substantial misappropriation of funds, I immediately shut down what surely could be viewed as a duplicitous scheme. Whether by design or default, the disclosure of this illegal activity has brought shame and humiliation to Richard Dawkins and his Foundation. It will be impossible for Richard to claim that my statements are false and to paint yet another revisionist history as I have the proof. There was a check sent to Doctors Without Boarders in March 2010 for approximately 500k and not another dime was sent until December 2013 when I sent some earmarked funds that could be identified (only approximately 30k). To determine the balance would require a team of forensic accountants. I shut the website down upon discovery of the misappropriations and hired the Raffa Accounting firm to examine the Foundation’s books and try to restore order to them. The 2011 records were missing and the 2012 taxes had not been done for 2012 and it was December 2013 (long after all extensions). Since I shut down the NBGA in December 2013, after Dawkins had been keeping and using the funds for other purposes, it is not possible that it was discontinued later for the three benign reasons that Richard now claims. This is untrue and these accounts are manufactured. Robyn Blumner did not shut the donations down. I did. And I shut it down even before I hired her in December 2013.

It is interesting to hear that Richard believes that keeping the disaster relief funds for over three years and nine months is “in full compliance with all financial, legal and ethical obligations, and that we run the foundation in accordance with sound fiscal management.” I do not share his assessment. I regard the diversion of funds by the Dawkins Foundation as a shameful lapse in accountability and transparency that is second only in its immorality to the attempt now to cover up the enduring, unsavory operation. I am deeply disappointed in Richard’s characterization of the events, knowing as I do the full extent of his knowledge, which we discussed at length at that time. His current account serves as a revisionist history in support of his enlightened self-interest. The frank truth of the matter paints a far darker picture. No one could argue in good faith that diverting disaster relief donations into a Foundation’s account and holding onto them for years, while disaster victims suffered, constituted appropriate action, or humane practice. Any claim to this effect is utterly lacking in credibility and would invite deeper concerns still about any parties who would champion such practices.

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