Pa. Planned Parenthood boss resigns over hostile workplace culture claims | Wednesday Morning Coffee

December 2, 2020 7:23 am

By PBS NewsHour from Arlington, Va., USA – 082812_Planned Parenthood_006, CC BY 2.0, WikiMedia Commons

(*This column was updated at 9:18 p.m. on 12/2/20 to correct an attribution error)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Employees at Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the political wing of the reproductive rights group, are calling for the resignation of the group’s executive director, Emily Callenalleging in an extraordinary open letter, that she has been “fiscally irresponsible, used racist, transphobic, classist language, and language which perpetuates stigma against abortion.”

The employees’ group, organized under the banner of “Save Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates” posted the letter on Nov. 25, urging donors, volunteers, patients, partner organizations, community leaders, and elected officials to join them in the effort to oust Callen, who joined the organization in March, just as the state went into a COVID-19 induced lockdown.

The letter includes a list of 15 bullet points detailing employees’ complaints against Callen, who spent two years as data director at America Votes before joining the Pennsylvania operation. They include accusing Callen of responding more rapidly to, and leveraging, the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg than to the death of George Floyd in police custody Minneapolis in May.

The letter also takes Callen, who has held other positions within Planned Parenthood elsewhere in the nation, to task for launching a “massive restructuring of staff due to budget issues that include firing a Black Woman who excelled at her job, forcing three remaining staff to compete for one position.

On Tuesday night, the employees’ group tweeted that Callen had resigned.

Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, 5/21/19, as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

In a statement, a Planned Parenthood Advocates regional field director, identified only as Cortney B., charged that Callen has “continuously deprioritized abortion access and addressing anti-blackness. In that time she has also harmed BIPOC and trans staff with her unwillingness to be held accountable and listen to staff concerns about the pervasive culture of white supremacy at PPPA.“

Callen is the second executive director that Planned Parenthood Advocates has had since long-serving executive director Sari Stevens left to take a position with the Wolf administration in early 2019. Stevens’ replacement, Ashley Lenker White, left after six months to take a job with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

The advocacy group has been central to Democratic and progressive politics in the state for years, leading fights in the Capitol against bills restricting abortion rights. The organization has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates, and played a key role in Gov. Tom Wolf’s re-election in 2018. In July, the group launched a $1.2 million campaign to assist Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats statewide.

Advocates rally on the grounds of the state Capitol during a national day of action on abortion rights on Tuesday, 5/21/19 (Capital-Star photo by John L. MIcek)

Callen declined a request for comment for this story, referring the Capital-Star to a one-page statement drafted by the organization’s board of directors, in which it reaffirmed its “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work,” and vowed to “work closely with the senior leadership team to immediately launch a deep examination.”

Board members also committed to “[investing] resources in long-term anti-racist training for the board of directors, executive director and the senior leadership team,” and to conducting with staff, “an audit of all external and internal communications,” and “review and revise policies, procedures and hiring practices and ensure ongoing training for staff.”

“Our nation’s history of structural racism, including reproductive oppression and implicit bias, has a profound impact on all of our institutions,” the board’s statement reads. “We have to continuously and strenuously challenge this in our own organizations and our own leadership, take responsibility for the things we need to change, and work to improve. PPPA’s investment in that work will continue.”

*Brianna Taylor, a Planned Parenthood organizer for southeastern Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Current that there “is a constant struggle in every movement, but the reality is that allowing these things to fester only opens us up to more attacks. If it is an organized effort by the people in the movement, the movement will emerge stronger.”

“It’s also important in the fight for reproductive rights and expanded access to sexual and reproductive health care that we center our work on the patients most affected by restrictions and cuts to sexual and reproductive health care, and that means centering racial justice and destroying the gender binary,” Taylor told the Current. “We know as Planned Parenthood patients as well as staff that our work for reproductive freedom can not be achieved without prioritizing racial and gender justice.”

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Weeks after his defeat, Democratic 10th Congressional District candidate Eugene DePasquale has filed the paperwork to run against Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry in 2022. But there’s more to that action than meets the eyeCapital-Star National Correspondent Daniel Newhauser writes.

Former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline is one of the attorneys leading President Donald Trump’s court fight in Pennsylvania and other states. There’s just one problem, he no longer has a law licenseTim Carpenter, of our sibling site, the Kansas Reflector, reports.

Our Helping the Helpers series, with the Uniontown Herald-Standard, continues this morning with a look at efforts by the Uniontown-based State Theatre Center for the Arts to return to performances in 2021.

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed legislation that would have shielded Pennsylvania businesses from pandemic-inspired litigation. Stephen Caruso explains why.

The Wolf administration says it’s deploying COVID-19 testing strike teams across the state to help combat an explosion in cases, your humble newsletter author reports.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have rolled out a new pandemic relief bill on Capitol HillCapital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

Allegheny County has received more than $1.2 million in state assistance to provide emergency cold weather shelter to people experiencing homelessness, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz makes the case for reforming the Electoral College, which is dangerously vulnerable to manipulation. A Texas A&M scholar explains why our brains are preprogrammed to dismiss information that doesn’t comport with our worldview.

The skyline in Center City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)


Philadelphia will create a new construction tax and put off changes to its real estate tax abatement program, the Inquirer reports.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano has confirmed his COVID-19 diagnosis and says he has a mild case of the disease, the Associated Press reports (via the Tribune-Review).
This Pennsylvania city is among the least safe in the nationPennLive reports, citing a new study (Spoiler: It’s Philadelphia).
The Lehigh Valley’s economic recovery has outpaced the state, but the region still has some distance to go, the Morning Call reports.
Luzerne County is continuing to work on its 2021 proposed budget, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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Philadelphia’s Latinos are calling on the community to get involved in the fight against gun violence, WHYY-FM reports.
Pittsburgh’s Equity Commission wants to reverse the gender pay gap, WESA-FM 
A man who killed an Erie teen in 1975 has died in prison of COVID-19, GoErie reports.
Once-ignored promises to native tribes could change the face of environmental reports.
Lots of candidates pledged not to take corporate PAC donations in 2020, but it’s not clear that it made a difference, Roll Call reports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to recent Pennsylvania state House candidate Tara Shakespeare, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
If it hasn’t already, the Instagram feed of everyone you know is going to fill up today with their top Spotify artists and songs from 2020. The streaming service has released its ‘Wrapped’ list for “all 67 months of 2020,” and a cursory inspection reveals a lot of musical comfort food consumption. Here’s our top song of the year, Glass Tiger’s ‘This is Your Life,’ remixed by Pineo & LoebThis tune helped keep us sane this year.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
A lifetime ago, or so it seems, League One side Charlton Athletic used to play in the Premier League alongside Imperial Era Manchester United. The London club’s new Danish owner is looking to get them back there, the Guardian reports.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.