MINNEAPOLIS: The case of Molly Diers vs. the Guthrie Theater took another turn late last year, as findings were reached on some of the stage carpenter’s allegations against her former employer.
The case began in March, when Diers filed charges of discrimination, retaliation, and fostering an unsafe work environment against the Minneapolis institution, alleging that a “sexist culture” in the theatre’s scene shop led to her resignation from her position there. A colleague, Nate Saul, also resigned in solidarity.
In charges filed with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, Diers cited discrimination based on gender; and with the National Labor Relations Board, in a filing made with her union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), she alleged retaliation against her and Saul for speaking up.
Regarding the latter charge, in an email in December the Guthrie’s artistic director, Joseph Haj, reported that a third-party arbitrator, Richard J. Miller, found that Diers and Saul had resigned from the Guthrie because “they weren’t selected” for a promotion; both had applied for the position of scene shop supervisor, which eventually went to an outside candidate. Though Saul and Diers were both qualified for the position, the arbitrator also ruled that the Guthrie was not required to rehire the two of them.
While Miller’s decision did find that IATSE had proven the existence of a “sexist culture” at the Guthrie, it added that management “had taken the necessary and appropriate steps to curtain and eventually eliminate this appalling behavior.” The arbitrator determined that the proper remedy was for the theatre to pay the “cost of the arbitration, including full payment to the arbitrator for his fee and expenses,” as well as the attorney fees for IATSE. In his email to staff, Haj did not dispute this finding.
Late in 2018 the city’s civil rights department also ruled that there was insufficient evidence of discriminatory practices by the Guthrie. In response, Diers sent a statement via her lawyer, Kate Bischoff, disputing that ruling. Bischoff alleged that the department’s decision “reflects an incomplete investigation that disregarded sworn testimony of Guthrie management and ignored Ms. Diers and witnesses to the misogyny at the Guthrie and the retaliation she faced. Because of the incomplete investigation, the Department erred in its determination…Simply put, the department took no action other than what it is minimally required to do: Ask the Guthrie for its opinion and Ms. Diers’ rebuttal.” The statement also noted that Diers still desires to return to work at the Guthrie.
There is currently one charge from IATSE against the Guthrie still outstanding. As Haj explained in an email to the Guthrie staff, “The remaining allegation is that the Guthrie violated a section of the National Labor Relations Act by giving Molly a downgraded rating in one area of her performance evaluation and by making comments threatening her in retaliation for engaging in protected concerted activity/union activity. We expect to have a ruling in this case no later than March.”
In the spring of 2018 the Guthrie conducted an internal investigation which found multiple instances of inappropriate physical contact and comments. Haj closed an email about the recent rulings by saying that the theatre has committed to working “toward a diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization. These filings and their findings, whatever the outcomes, will not sway us from our goal to have both an outstanding workplace and an organization that is meaningfully embracing of the communities that we are charged to serve.”