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While last week’s news cycle was dominated by the Senate judiciary hearing for the obviously unhinged Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the art world had its own roll call for abuse of power. Michael Olijnyk, Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s famed Mattress Factory museum, was put on “temporary paid leave” on Friday, September 28th. This follows allegations made by one current and three former Mattress Factory employees about a long history of sexual and physical assault carried out by an unnamed co-worker, in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday, September 24. As reported by WESA (90.5 FM), the decision to file this complaint came after the museum board failed to appropriately respond to allegations by six women employed by Mattress Factory in past years, with multiple incidents of sexual harassment, a physical assault, a sexual assault, and, in two cases, rape, reported to museum officials, including Olijnyk, since February of this year.
The story published by WESA details these allegations, ranging back to 2013, and involves numerous women with whom the unnamed accused pursued sexual relationships that, though consensual in some instances, escalated to non-consensual sexual and physical assault, and in any case were never appropriate for a workplace setting in which he held professional power over the women and their career prospects. According to these and other published accounts, it was not until recent communication between these former and current Mattress Factory employees revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct and abuse, that they felt empowered to escalate their complaints against the organization — which, until that point, Olijnyk and the board seemed happy to sweep under the rug, despite officially being aware of them since at least February of this year. As usual, bad public image appears to be the only deterrent for bad behavior, and the complaint with the NLRB alleging retaliation or discrimination against employees who accused their coworker of sexual misconduct has now been met with admission on the part of the Mattress Factory that their policies and practices have fallen short.
“The Mattress Factory also engaged a human resources professional to address internal personnel issues and to conduct a thorough review of our employee policies,” reads a statement issued by the organization on September 27th. “Clearly, we have more work to do.”
The board assembled on Friday to appoint an interim director, who will be named in the coming days, and to discuss “retaining organizational consultants to engage and empower museum management and staff, to make the museum a better place to work, and to ensure that the museum is delivering on its mission.” Perhaps Olijnyk — and anyone else who feels an imperative to aid and abet men who consider sexual access and abuse a benefit of their privilege and power — can use this time off to consider the ramifications of continuing to stifle women’s voices at a time when we will prove, as many times as necessary, that we have had enough of being silenced.
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