The New York Road Runners, the club that puts on the New York City Marathon, announced Monday that its chief executive would depart at the end of the year, amid complaints from current and former employees who questioned the organization’s commitment to diversity and social justice.
The executive, Michael Capiraso, who has led the organization since 2015 and is credited with generating significant revenue, is leaving Dec. 31. Kerin Hempel, a former executive with the New York Road Runners who has worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., will serve as the interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is named.
In an announcement Monday morning, George Hirsch, the chairman of the organization, said its board had spent the past months listening “to the concerns raised and recommendations offered by the community N.Y.R.R. serves, including its employees and members of the broader running community.”
“In order to achieve our mission to help and inspire people through running,” he continued, “we will recruit new leadership to the organization.”
Since the spring, when a wave of protests after the police killing of George Floyd inspired a re-examination of race nationwide, the New York Road Runners has been reviewing how it has addressed systemic racism and social justice.
The review gained added urgency in August when a group of anonymous current and former employees published online a letter with a series of complaints about New York Road Runners, accusing it of financial mismanagement and failing to adequately address diversity and issues related to racism. The letter said Capiraso lacked a commitment to move on the issues.
Before the letter surfaced, the organization said, it had undertaken efforts to pay more attention to issues of race. It has hired a diversity consultant, who spoke with employees both in groups and individually about their experiences. The consultant also began conducting a diversity and inclusion training program with the senior leadership team.
The organization also hired Erica Edwards-O’Neal, a former specialist in diversity for the New York City Economic Development Corp., to serve as senior vice president of diversity. She will start in December.
In addition, the board hired a major New York law firm to conduct an investigation of its workplace culture.
According to two people with knowledge of the matter, the investigation is nearing its conclusion. The firm, Proskauer, will deliver a report to the board of the organization. New York Road Runners has said it will keep the report confidential to protect the identities of people who cooperated with it.
Capiraso said he and the leadership of New York Road Runners had taken the complaints and concerns that current and former employees had raised “very seriously.”
“I understand what the board is saying, that they are making a decision after having listened to people,” Capiraso said in an interview. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served New York Road Runners. While I was there we doubled our impact and doubled our revenue, and now I am looking forward to some other opportunities.”
During his tenure, revenues at New York Road Runners increased to more than $100 million from roughly $70 million with the help of new media and sponsorship deals and increased participation in high-profile large races like the marathon, which now registers some 50,000 participants. Two half marathons run by the Road Runners have some 25,000 participants each.
Like all sports organizations, New York Road Runners has been tested as never before by the pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the New York City Half Marathon, the Brooklyn Half Marathon and the New York City Marathon. The resulting financial losses led the organization to lay off or furlough 40 percent of its staff of 229.
Meanwhile, even before complaints were publicly aired in August, there were questions from employees internally about whether the organization had done all it could to create events and a workplace that looked like the city it served.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men who accosted him in February while running in Georgia brought new attention to the dangers of “running while Black” and forced the country’s running organizations to speak out — many for the first time — about the need for the sport to be more diverse but many did not do so until months after the killing.
In July, New York Road Runners held a virtual running event to raise money and awareness for several social and racial justice organizations, including the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.