Ex-Scottsdale Arts Employee Claims She Was Fired for Reporting Bad Mask Behavior

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Lynn Trimble
click to enlarge Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Lynn Trimble
The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is getting sued by a former employee who alleges that she was fired for reporting the CEO's lax mask-wearing behavior.

The organization's CEO and president, Gerd Wuestemann, denied the allegations in a statement to Phoenix New Times, saying they would be proven to have "no basis whatsoever."

The employee, Abigail Clarke, filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court on July 2 accusing Scottsdale Arts — the nonprofit formerly known as Scottsdale Cultural Council that manages the venue — and its human resources manager, Lisa DeGroodt, of wrongfully firing Clarke last September in retaliation for being a whistleblower. The complaint states that Clarke observed Wuestemann and others at a indoor meeting on September 1, 2020 flouting mask-wearing protocols in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. After she and another employee reported the incident, they were both fired.

In a virtual call with Clarke on September 4, DeGroodt allegedly told her that she was being terminated for making a "false report of a COVID mask violation." DeGroodt claimed that video showed that Wuestemann and the other meeting attendees were wearing masks but refused to show the footage to Clarke when she asked to see it. When Clarke filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Arizona Department of Economic Security, DeGroodt also informed the agency that she had been fired for lying about the meeting with Wuestemann. The agency ultimately denied Clarke benefits.

"SCC and DeGroodt had no good cause to fire Clarke and did so by falsely and maliciously accusing her of making a false report which was in fact an honest report of a violation of state law which SCC found to be embarrassing because it involved COVID protection/public health violations by its CEO Dr. Gerd Wuestemann," the lawsuit states. "They fired her with an evil and dishonest intent to punish her for her truthful reports to her superiors at SCC of violations of public health laws."

"She engaged in that protected activity by complaining about this, blowing the whistle, and within three days she was terminated," Krista Robinson, Clarke's attorney, told Phoenix New Times.

Clarke, who declined to comment on the lawsuit through Robinson, is seeking an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages. She had worked at the center since 2016, had been promoted twice, and was making around $50,000.

Wuestemann denied the allegations and defended Scottsdale Arts in a text message sent to Phoenix New Times on Tuesday night.

"Scottsdale Arts is aware of the lawsuit filed by a former employee. Based on its investigation, Scottsdale Arts believes the case has no basis whatsoever, and will seek to have the court dismiss the suit in its entirety as soon as possible," he wrote. "We have adhered 100% to all public safety regulations and are to this day continuing to implement safety measures above what is mandated. Any statement to the contrary is untruthful."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety