Former Curator Sues Worcester Museum of Art, Alleging Discrimination and ‘Offensive Behavior’

A former curator is suing Massachusetts’ Worcester Art Museum, accusing the director and several senior staff of discrimination.

In the civil lawsuit, filed in Worcester County Superior Court last month, Rachel Parikh alleges she was “subjected to a hostile and offensive work environment” during her employment at the museum. “The malicious and relentless harassment made the work environment intolerable,” the lawsuit said, alleging that Parikh was “mocked and ridiculed because she is a brown-skinned South Asian” Indian woman.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

The 64-page legal filing details allegations against WAM executive director Matthias Waschek and Claire Whitner, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs, curator of European art, as well as Parikh’s supervisor. The civil lawsuit alleges that Parikh endured several instances of “racism and unwelcome and offensive behavior,” including multiple comments about her appearance, negotiations over her job title that did not accurately factor in Parikh’s six years of work experience, new staffers being treated more favorably, and her various attempts to report the alleged incidents.

The accusations in the filing include allegations about two meals Parikh had with Waschek and his husband outside the museum, where Parikh alleges the men asked intrusive questions about her cultural background and imitated an Indian accent in reference to a British television show that aired in the 1990s.

The suit also names four officers of the museum’s executive committee—Dorothy Chen-Courtin, Douglas Brown, Sarah Berry, and Susan Bassick—as defendants.

Parikh is a specialist in South Asian and Islamic art, especially works on paper as well as arms and armor. Before WAM, Parikh worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was a Calderwood Curatorial Fellow of South Asian Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

After the consultancy firm LAM & Associates investigated Parikh’s allegations of harassment and retaliation at WAM in 2022, its final report said it couldn’t substantiate the claims with other colleagues but did find her statements “credible.”

The firm’s investigator, Laurie Margolies, interviewed several museum employees and also found “little trust that employees felt they were protected and would be kept safe.” Margolis wrote in the July 2022 report how she observed that “loyalty seemed to trump honesty or memory” and that the descriptions of Parikh’s allegations “fit a pattern that began prior to her arrival at the museum.”

Parikh resigned from her position at WAM as associate curator of the arts of Asia and the Islamic World in September 2022. According to the complaint, Parikh’s notice said her resignation was due to the WAM failing to uphold its own policies and applicable laws, as well as the “resulting hostile and psychologically unsafe work environment.”

“I have been left no choice but to leave WAM due to the detrimental impact all of this is having on my emotional, mental, and physical health, as well as my well-being,” Parikh wrote.

“The Board had endorsed and approved the discriminatory and retaliatory behavior in complete disregard of Dr. Parikh’s rights by failing to take her seriously, and refusing to hold Mr. Waschek accountable even though the outside investigator had concluded that Mr. Waschek’s behavior was completely unacceptable,” the complaint reads.

After the release of LAM & Associates’ report, the museum board required Waschek to undergo “further training and efforts to increase DEIA efforts at the Museum,” according to documents provided to WBUR.

On August 10, WAM’s spokesperson sent a written statement to ARTnews acknowledging the lawsuit filed in Worcester Superior Court, and that the museum “remains committed to providing a workplace where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, so we take these allegations very seriously.” The statement also said the documents reveal “confidential HR information.”

“This has put the Museum in a position where the only way to set the record straight would be to disclose confidential and private information in a manner that would violate our own policies and compromise the privacy of current and former employees,” wrote WAM spokesperson Madeline Feller. “We look forward to addressing these claims through the legal process.”

The public relations firm Raskey Partners also sent ARTnews an email with a written statement from Waschek, which said he was dismayed by the allegations made in the lawsuit, calling them “false” and that they invoked “homophobic tropes.”

“I have worked hard over the last thirty plus years to build a reputation of professionalism and integrity,” Waschek wrote. “As a gay man who has experienced discrimination first-hand, I have always held DEAI issues as a core value, and have sought to do my best to eliminate discrimination from the workplace and build a culture of inclusivity. To read these patently false statements and to see my husband, who doesn’t even work at the Museum, dragged into it and similarly maligned, is staggering.”

Parikh’s attorney, Lana Sullivan, also told WBUR this lawsuit is her second case against the museum and Waschek. The previous case, filed in 2015, resulted in a settlement.

The news of the lawsuit was first reported by WBUR.


No votes yet.
Please wait...