Two former employees of the immersive arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf filed a lawsuit on Tuesday alleging that the corporation subjected them to discrimination and unfair pay practice, wrongfully firing them after each brought their complaints to senior staff.
Tara Khozein and Gina Maciuszek filed their claim with the First Judicial Court in Santa Fe; they are seeking to have their case recognized as a class action, representing more than 50 female workers of Meow Wolf who the women say have been affected by unfair labor practices since 2017.
More specifically, their suit alleges “a pattern and practice of subjecting female employees to different compensation, terms, conditions, and/or privileges of employment than their male colleagues.” The women are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for discrimination, attorneys’ fees, and other legal costs.
According to the lawsuit, Khozein began working with the immersive experience company in September as a performance content director until she was fired nearly five months later in February. She claims to have earned well below Santa Fe’s minimum wage at the time, $11.40 per hour. (Recently, the city’s minimum wage increased to $11.80 per hour.) Classified as a part-time employee, Khozein says she earned $384.61 for a workweek that often lasted longer than 40 hours with no overtime. Under those circumstances, Meow Wolf would have been required to pay her at least $456 for a 40-hour workweek. Additionally, she alleges that her firing came after she brought concerns about pay — in addition to accusations of a pattern of racial and gender discrimination in the workplace — to the attention of her supervisors.
Maciuszek was hired as a content director in early October but was soon fired in mid-November after telling supervisors she was being scrutinized more severely than her male counterparts, according to the claim. The allegation names Nicolas Gonda, head of entertainment at the company, and Marianne Palacios, vice president of human resources — both individually listed as defendants in the lawsuit — as telling her she was being “too assertive.”
“Ms. Maciuszek was told that ‘an investigation’ had been completed, and that there was no ‘path forward’ for her at Meow Wolf,” the complaint says. She was then fired.
An attorney from Hinkle Shanor LLP of Santa Fe, which is representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment for this article until she could confirm a statement with her clients.
Previously, Khozein and Maciuszek filed a discrimination complaint in April against the company with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, according to the lawsuit, but the bureau issued them “Orders of Non-Determination” in May.
In their request to represent a class of women employed by Meow Wolf, the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit that questions pervade about whether the company promotes women at a disproportionately low rate compared to its advancements of men; whether less favorable treatment of women is because of “the acceptance of a stereotype or bias; and whether the employment policies, practices, and/or corporate culture of Meow Wolf that have adversely affected its female employees violate the New Mexico Human Rights Act.”
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, the plantiffs’ lawyers told Hyperallergic that:
In the 48 hours since filing the complaint, we have heard from numerous women who are current or former Meow Wolf employees, each with similar stories of harassment and discrimination. Many of the women expressed reluctance to share their stories, due to understandable fears of the consequences of coming forward. This case is not just about Gina and Tara and their experiences. It’s about the experiences of every Meow Wolf employee that has had her/his/their rights violated. These are all stories that deserve to be heard.
Meow Wolf founder Vince Kadlubek told the Santa Fe New Mexican that “there is no gender bias at the company.” Meow Wolf has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Meow Wolf established itself as a local arts collective in 2008 and has since become a regional chain of venues showcasing immersive arts with over 400 employees on staff, according to its website. Last month, it was announced that Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin would join the company as chief world builder, an advisory position to help the business build “narrative” and “mind-bending ideas,” he told theLos Angeles Times. In 2015, the novelist pledged $2.7 million to transform a bowling alley into a project space for the immersive experience company.
In March, Hyperallergic published an opinion piece that questioned whether or not Meow Wolf was benefiting the local arts communities it entered. The company has planned an ambitious roadmap for itself, looking to expand to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, and Washington DC. Some artists see its arrival as a welcome opportunity; others have accused the company of gentrifying their communities and overshadowing local efforts to create similar immersive experiences.
Responding to that criticism, Meow Wolf released a statement on social media, “We provide a creative, artful experience to 500,000 visitors per year in Santa Fe (a town of 70,000 people), and we currently employ over 400 artists on salary and with full benefits!”
Update 7/3/19 5:46pm: This article has been updated to include a statement from the plantiffs’ lawyers.