Getting caught kicking a dog on video can cost you your job -- even if you're a powerful CEO.
Desmond Hague, CEO of privately owned Centerplate, a Connecticut-based catering specialist that serves specialty food at sports stadiums, conference centers and public facilities across North America, resigned under pressure on Tuesday.
Today, in a statement, the Centerplate board of directors announced that Hague has resigned and been replaced by Chief Operating Officer Chris Verros as acting CEO. "The decision comes as a result of Hague's personal misconduct involving the mistreatment of an animal in his care," the company statement says.
Centerplate executives did not immediately respond to email requests for comment from USA TODAY.
Hague's ouster followed a week of social media blowback over an elevator security camera video, posted on YouTube, that appeared to show Hague repeatedly kicking a friend's dog that he was watching.
The video sparked social media petitions to oust Hague, including a Change.org petition that attracted more than 183,000 signatures in a week. Petitions on Facebook and Twitter encouraged boycotts of Centerplate-catered facilities, ranging from the Seattle Mariner's Safeco Field to the Los Angeles Zoo to the new Levi's Stadium in San Francisco.
USA TODAY could not determine the origin of the video or how it came to be posted on YouTube. But Hague acknowledged its authenticity last week when he released a statement saying his behavior was "completely and utterly out of character." He continued: "I am ashamed and deeply embarrassed a minor frustration with a friend's pet caused me to lose control of my emotional response. I would like to extend my apology to my family, company and clients, as I understand that this has also reflected negatively on them."
The power of social media -- and social media petitions -- in the incident may force some folks not only to change how they act in public, but also in private, says one PR expert. "We are in un-chartered territory," says Katharine D. Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing, a marketing measurement consulting firm. "The old power structure is dead. You can't stop something from going viral."
Paine says it is likely Centerplate's big clients felt the social media pressure.
About one week ago, Vancouver resident Erica Perry posted a YouTube petition calling on Centerplate to fire Hague. The company responded by putting Hague on probation and requiring him to donate $100,000 to a foundation against animal abuse, but the petition kept gaining traction.
"Animal abuse has no place in our society," says Perry, in a statement. "I hope this helps deter future acts of cruelty because there are many terrible acts which are not caught on camera."
Perry has posted yet another Change.org petition -- this one addressed to the British Columbia Judicial System -- asking that Hague also be charged with animal abuse.
Joe O'Donnell, chairman of the board of Centerplate, said, in a statement, "I'd like to apologize for the distress that this situation has caused so many; but also thank our employees, clients and guests who expressed their feelings about this incident. Their voices helped us to frame our deliberations during this very unusual and unfortunate set of circumstances."
The quick action particularly shows the social media power of YouTube, says Paine. "Video evidence is more persuasive than anything else."
If nothing else, says Paine, "CEOs will stop kicking dogs."