Two former employees of Santa Fe-based immersive arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf allege in a new lawsuit they were subjected to discrimination and unfair pay practices, and then wrongfully fired after bringing complaints to senior staff.
Tara Khozein and Gina Maciuszek, the plaintiffs in the suit, filed Tuesday in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, also are seeking to have their case recognized as a class action, representing more than 50 female workers of Meow Wolf the women say have been affected by unfair labor practices since 2017.
Meow Wolf founder Vince Kadlubek, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said the company is aware of the allegations, but he denied the company treats employees unfairly. The company has employed hundreds of people, he said, and “there is no gender bias.”
Khozein, who says she was hired in September as a performance content director, alleges in the suit she was paid well below the city of Santa Fe’s minimum wage for her work — earning $384.61 for a workweek that often was more than 40 hours, even though she was classified as a part-time employee. At the time, the city’s minimum wage of $11.40 per hour would have required pay of at least $456 for a 40-hour workweek. The city’s minimum wage has since increased to $11.80 per hour.
Khozein, the lawsuit says, was fired in February after she brought her concerns about pay, as well as accusations of a pattern of racial and gender discrimination in the workplace, to the attention of her supervisors.
Maciuszek, who says she began working for Meow Wolf in early October as a content director, alleges she was fired in mid-November after complaining to supervisors she was being scrutinized more severely than her male counterparts. Nicolas Gonda, head of entertainment at the company, and Marianne Palacios, vice president of human resources — both named individually as defendants in the lawsuit — told her she was being “too assertive,” the suit alleges.
“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.
Kadlubek said in interview the company has “documented everyone’s employment extensively and feel confident that we’ve treated employees fairly and have terminated employment in a fair manner, as well.”
Khozein declined to comment on the record about the case, and Maciuszek could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, from Hinkle Shanor LLP of Santa Fe, did not respond to requests for comment.
Both women filed discrimination complaints in April against Meow Wolf with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, according to the suit, but in May the bureau issued “Orders of Non-Determination” to them.
In their request to represent a class of women employed by the company, the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit there are questions about whether Meow Wolf 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.”
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and other legal costs.
Meow Wolf, established as a local arts collective in 2008, has ballooned since it opened its permanent interactive exhibit and entertainment venue, The House of Eternal Return, in March 2016. The exhibit has drawn more than a million visitors. The company is now one of Santa Fe’s largest private employers, and its success in Santa Fe has allowed it to begin developing projects in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Nev., Washington, D.C., and Denver.
In May, the company announced it would raise its minimum wage for Santa Fe-based workers to $17 per hour. Kadlubek said at the time the raise would impact 15 percent of Meow Wolf’s workforce of more than 450 people.
“Sharing success is one of our core ideologies,” Kadlubek said a statement in May. “We want to reward those who have worked hard to help us continue to grow.”