The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art asserted that it did not violate the free speech rights of Kate Riotte, a former curatorial administrator who claimed she was fired in 2021 for questioning the institution’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion policies, according to a filing submitted in federal court Monday.
The Wadsworth filed the document on June 12 in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut in response to Riotte’s civil lawsuit in the District of Connecticut. In the document, the museum requested court to dismiss Riotte’s complaint with prejudice and award the reimbursement of its costs and attorney fees.
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The museum also accused Riotte of breaking the law by making “surreptitious recording of private telephonic communications without consent.” If proven, Riotte would be in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law, which requires “consent of all parties is required to avoid potential civil liability”. The museum told Law360, which first reported the news of the filing Tuesday, that recording calls was against company policy.
In the filing, the museum asserted that the phone recording limits Riotte’s possible damages due to the after-acquired evidence defense, a legal principle that allows employers to introduce evidence of fireable misconduct found after the termination of an employee.
The Center for Individual Rights, a conservative-leaning nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. filed the lawsuit on behalf of Riotte in March and amended it in May. Michael E. Rosman, an attorney at the Center, told Law360, “We don’t believe that the after-acquired evidence doctrine will affect our client’s damages in this case. Even if it did, she would still be entitled to damages for several years.”
As ARTnews‘ Angelica Villa previously reported, the lawsuit alleges that museum leadership at the Wadsworth terminated Riotte after three months in her position over internal correspondence discussing a draft of policy aimed at addressing racial equity, in which she questioned the reasoning for the DEI initiative.
According to the claim, Riotte questioned the reason for the task force’s “focus on equity,” asking why it was “essential for the growth” of the museum and describing it as being potentially “detrimental to the organization.” Riotte requested that the task force provide an official definition for “systemic racism” that appeared on the museum’s website. In internal correspondence outlined in the claim, Riotte wrote, “why is advancing racial equity, specifically, something seen as being attainable, and even desired?”
“Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages,” the museum said in its second affirmative defense in court filings, “because, without in any way admitting any wrongdoing, defendant did not act with a reckless indifference to the rights of others or intentionally and wantonly violate those rights.”
“Even if [Riotte] suffered damages legally attributable to any action by defendant, which she did not, upon information and belief, [her] claims for damages are barred or reduced by her failure to mitigate her alleged damages, including by using reasonable diligence to seek and obtain comparable employment elsewhere.”
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art was founded in 1842, has a collection of nearly 50,000 items, and promotes itself as “oldest continuously-operating public art museum in the United States.”
The Wadsworth Atheneum and Riotte did not respond to a request for comment from ARTnews.