An Ex-Staffer Is Suing the Akron Art Museum and Its Former Director, Claiming She Was Fired for Complaining About the Work Environment

The museum's director resigned in May following allegations from numerous staffers.

The Akron Art Museum. Photo by Threeblur0, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

An Ohio court will review allegations of racism, sexism, and intimidation involving upper management of the Akron Art Museum. The news comes on the heels of last month’s resignation of museum CEO and director Mark Masuoka, who has been accused of discrimination and retaliation.  

Amanda Crowe, a museum employee who was laid off on March 30, filed a lawsuit in a county court against the institution and Masouka last week, alleging that she had been the victim of libel, defamation, and unlawful workplace retaliation. 

In her complaint against Masouka, Crowe claims that the former director verbally embarrassed her at a public event she helped organize in 2019. Masouka was angry, according to Crowe, over the fact that the children at the event were making messy art projects and said that the event was “not properly planned,” had “inadequate staffing and security.” 

He allegedly told her that, by telling her this, “he was kicking the dog,” and that she should “kick the dogs below her.”

In a second complaint, filed against museum, Crowe alleges that the termination of her employment was a form of “unlawful retaliation” for her role last year in writing a letter, along with 27 other anonymous employees, that accused museum leadership of fostering a “pervasive culture of race and gender discrimination and bullying which have resulted in a dysfunctional work environment and severely unhealthy turnover rate.”

While on staff, Crowe says she reported to her superiors violations such as “racial slurs, sexual harassment, bullying, improper use of funds, improper diversion of grant monies, [and] misuse of museum resources,” among other infractions.  

The museum hired an external legal team to conduct an investigation into the allegations and employees were told that “no retaliatory actions would be taken.” But Crowe says that following the investigation, she was “systematically subjected to new and overbearing oversight, criticism, reductions of resources for her projects, diminishment of her ability to facilitate family events, disciplinary action and other unjustified and unwarranted harassment.”

The museum declined to comment on pending litigation.

The letter, first reported by ARTnews in April, recalled one specific episode in which an employee suggested making part of the museum’s collection available to the community through a smartphone app. Masouka allegedly responded by saying, “I mean, really, how many people in Akron actually have access to a cellphone? And if they do it’s probably a gangster throwaway phone.’’

One former employee told ARTnews that most of those who were laid off had participated in the letter. “What we are seeing is severe mismanagement by leaders who are using the pandemic as a scapegoat,” said the employee, Jen Alverson, a former art handler at the museum. “I’ve watched countless coworkers leave or be pushed out because of a lack of professional leadership.”

Masuoka, who was hired by the museum in 2013, submitted his resignation letter to the board on May 18. His departure was announced the next day along with the details of the institution’s search for his replacement. 

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