Amid staffer discontent as the organization pursues legal challenges in support of LGBT rights against President Trump, the executive director of Lambda Legal has resigned, the organization announced Friday.
In a statement, Tiven — who has served as head of Lambda Legal since 2016 — said she came to the organization “with a mandate to make big changes” and is “proud of how much we’ve accomplished,” but will take on a new position to work on the mid-term elections with the Leadership Now Project, a progressive non-profit of business professionals.
“I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had at Lambda, and will remain a strong supporter and donor,” Tiven said. “We need Lambda Legal more than ever, and I’ll be rooting for them.”
Tiven’s resignation comes at the same time as Lambda Legal spearheads efforts to stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other Trump judicial nominees. Lambda is also pursuing litigation against Trump’s transgender military ban, which resulted in one of several preliminary injunctions against the policy and is scheduled to go to trial, and a lawsuit against the U.S. military’s ban on service members with HIV.
According to Lambda Legal, the executive committee and board will discuss about interim leadership and next steps shortly.
Although Lambda Legal continues to have success in court in favor of LGBT rights, Tiven’s resignation comes amid discontent from staffers, who have complained about attrition, an edict-based management approach and cuts to benefits. Last year, the organization voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild.
Lambda had lost key staffers through attrition. One staffer cited more more than 50 departures from the organization since April 1. But Lambda also had key hires, such as Diana Flynn, who came to Lambda as litigation as serving more than three decades at the civil rights division of Justice Department.
In a June letter to staffers, Nancy Marcus, who served as a senior staff attorney for Lambda, announced her resignation nearly two years on the job and detailed her discontent with management practices as “dizzying and disturbing.”
“The top-down ever-changing vague edicts and references to new priority lanes and buckets, and the elimination of key work (and positions) from departments and priority areas…along with the elimination of livable retirement and health benefits, merit raises, and the feeling of a supportive and stable work environment have been dizzying and disturbing,” Marcus wrote. “These developments, coupled with the apparent apathy of senior management regarding the exorbitant attrition rate of the past two years, signal that retention isn’t a priority at Lambda Legal. And that, in turn, perpetuates and aggravates the severe attrition and morale problems permeating Lambda Legal.”
Key among the concerns Marcus cited in her letter was unhappiness with workers as they continued to leave Lambda.
“The truth is that nearly every staff meeting has started to feel like a memorial service as more and more Lambda Legal employees give up,” Marcus wrote. “Something has to change. And it can. We’ve changed the world for the better; we (you) can make Lambda Legal better too. And maybe, just maybe, that means restoring much of what it used to be not so long ago, not destroying it.”
The letter was obtained by the Washington Blade and verified as accurate by several Lambda staffers familiar with the missive.
Marcus, who still works as an attorney in the Los Angeles-area, told the Blade the failure of leadership at Lambda was squarely on Tiven’s shoulders and the organization should improve after her departure.
“When I was referring to senior management, I was really referring to Rachel Tiven,” Marcus said. “I think that Rachel was not a good fit for the organization, but I think the organization is as strong as ever and the problems that I described, I think, are problems that are going to be largely alleviated when Lambda Legal moves forward with new leadership.”
Marcus emphasized she wasn’t concerned about remaining management for the organization and had high hopes for Lambda moving forward.
“I’m excited about the next chapter for Lambda Legal because it remains an organization filled with brilliant lawyers and advocates for LGBT rights, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their work continues to progress,” Marcus said.
A spokesperson for Lambda referred to the Blade to the initial statement when asked for additional context about Tiven’s departure amid staffer discontent.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.