After investigation, Burlington art gallery admits missteps but denies discrimination

Artist Misoo Bang in his studio in Shelburne on March 31, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Months after facing allegations of racism, a prominent Burlington art gallery has apologized for the conduct of a former director who it says failed to meet the organization’s goals in inclusion in the workplace.

Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery’s apology came after an independent investigator found that Misoo Bang – an artist and former employee who accused the gallery of discriminating against her in December instagram post — experienced treatment “inconsistent with Frog Hollow’s commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment,” said Carol MacDonald, chair of the organization’s board of directors.

But while the investigator substantiated some of Bang’s allegations against Rachel Teachout – the former principal – the conduct did not meet the threshold of discrimination under the law, said Frog Hollow attorney Beth Danon.

Danon said the report found no evidence the manager harassed Bang or took actions that hurt her job, such as demoting or firing her.

“What we’re saying is, ‘Yeah, some of those comments weren’t a good thing. But it didn’t rise to the level of harassment or discrimination,” Danon told VTDigger.

Danon defined the legal threshold for harassment as conduct “so severe or pervasive that it is perceived by a reasonable person to cause a hostile or abusive work environment.”

To support the argument that Teachout’s alleged behavior was not harassment, Danon pointed to a statement from Bang in Seven dayswhere Bang said she thought Teachout meant the comments to be a joke.

“Sometimes joking is good, and sometimes joking hurts feelings,” Danon said. “You just have to be careful.”

Frog Hollow commissioned the investigation into Bang’s allegations after his grievances were made public on social media. Bang had previously corresponded with the organization’s board members for months, asking them to implement diversity and inclusion training.

The report produced by the independent investigator was based on interviews with 15 current and former Frog Hollow employees, artists and board members, according to MacDonald, the chairman of the board. The organization cannot make it public because the testimony was collected confidentially, Danon said.

In a Facebook post last week, Frog Hollow reposted an apology MacDonald sent to Bang.

“On behalf of Frog Hollow, I am sorry – and disappointed – about your experience at Frog Hollow and assure you that Frog Hollow is committed to supporting a diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment where no one should feel unsafe, unwanted or degraded,” MacDonald wrote in the March 3 post.

According to the post, the organization is updating its policies to clarify how workers can air their grievances to senior management and instituting “diversity, inclusion and discrimination” training for employees.

MacDonald also said Teachout, the former manager, no longer works at the Church Street store.

Danon, the attorney, did not say whether Teachout left or was fired. The former manager took a vacation in January and has not returned to the organization, Danon said.

The investigator’s report was not completed until mid-February, Danon told VTDigger, although the attorney who worked on it has been in communication with Danon about his findings throughout the process. .

A lawyer for Teachout, Bernie Lambek, told VTDigger that – while Teachout won’t be returning to work at Frog Hollow – “it’s an open question legally whether she’s still a furloughed employee or not. not”. The two sides are trying to negotiate a settlement over whether Frog Hollow owes Teachout more money, he said.

Bang, who is Korean, said she was the target of many racist comments from Teachout, prompting her to quit her position as associate director at the gallery.

In her Instagram post, Bang – who is now an art educator – described several incidents where Teachout linked her to Asian stereotypes, including one where Teachout allegedly told Bang that she had dressed up as a pregnant “Chinese bitch”. for Halloween and the manager’s boyfriend as an American soldier.

On another occasion, Bang said, Teachout allegedly told Bang that his “exotic looks” had helped boost the gallery’s sales.

Bang did not respond to a request from VTDigger to comment for this story.

Lambek, Teachout’s attorney, denied all of Bang’s claims about the former manager. He also said – although he does not have access to the investigator’s report – that he could not substantiate any of Bang’s claims about Teachout on social media.

Danon, however, disputed Lambek’s claim and said some of Bang’s allegations were found to be credible. She declined to specify which allegations were true.

The Burlington Free Press reported in January that the Vermont Attorney General’s office planned to launch its own investigation into Bang’s discrimination allegations.

Danon said she was not aware of any state investigation and that no current Frog Hollow employees had been contacted by a state investigator.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Beth Danon’s last name.

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