In Brief

Meow Wolf Violated Living Wage, Santa Fe Court Rules

The city ordered the immersive arts group to pay its former employees more than $17,500 for violating labor laws.

Meow Wolf in Santa Fe (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Jeremiah Harmon applied to volunteer for a position with Meow Wolf in 2015, hoping that the position would later translate into full-time employment with the immersive arts venue. According to the Santa Fe Reporter, which first reported on the story, Harmon was eventually offered a paid job that came with promises of a future, higher-paying employment. The stay-at-home dad quickly became a fixture at Meow Wolf; he even became a trading card sold in the organization’s gift shop. He was given a staff badge, hours on the company’s “Cave Team” and a $300 stipend every two weeks.

What he didn’t get, however, was that better job.

In May 2018, Harmon asked the state to investigate the matter. A year later, the corporation announced it would raise its base pay to $17 per hour for most employees. That shift caused Harmon to reassess how he was treated and whether or not he was paid fairly for his time at the company — and the city of Santa Fe pursued a case against Meow Wolf on his behalf.

And in July, Assistant City Attorney Gabriel Smith sent a letter to Meow Wolf’s counsel, the Bennett Law Group LLC, ordering the company to pay Harmon $17,534.95 within 20 days. “Upon review of the materials provided, a preponderance of the evidence shows that Meow Wolf is in violation of the Santa Fe Living Wage Ordinance,” the letter read in part.

Like many employees, Harmon though he was ineligible for Santa Fe’s “living wage” protections because he signed onto the company as an independent contractor. But the city resident says that his duties were often unclear and he routinely worked overtime hours. Santa Fe’s code also states that contract workers must be paid a living wage, which is currently $11.80 but was between $10.84 and $10.91 during Harmon’s time at Meow Wolf.

Initially, Meow Wolf’s counsel agreed to pay the back-wages if Harmon released it from “all and any liability of whatsoever nature and howsoever arising out of and/or in relation to the claims,” according to a document obtained by the Santa Fe Reporter.

Harmon rejected the deal. “Meow Wolf does not really have the right to require the claimant to sign anything absolving them from liability,” city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon later told the publication. 

The corporation withdrew its request for its former employee to sign the agreement. Chacon also confirmed that the company had cut the check for Harmon, whose wage theft claim with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions against Meow Wolf is still pending.

In July, Hyperallergic reported that the arts group is also being sued for discrimination and unfair pay practices by two former employees. The women in that lawsuit are seeking to have their case recognized as a class action, representing more than 50 female workers of Meow Wolf.

At the time, Meow Wolf’s founder Vince Kadlubek said that “there is no gender bias at the company.” Regarding Harmon’s specific case and allegations, he and the company have not yet released comments to the press.

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