Mattress Factory Staff Say Museum Downplayed Sexual Assault Allegations, Retaliated Against Critics

Sep 25, 2018

It began, simply enough, with young women telling each other their stories.

Editor's note: This story contains explicit language and descriptions of sexual assault.

Connected by mutual friends and by their employment at the Mattress Factory museum, the small group of women learned they had something in common: sexual abuse at the hands of a single alleged perpetrator who was a co-worker there. Starting in February, six women came forward to museum officials alleging multiple incidents of sexual harassment, an assault, a sexual assault and, in two cases, rape.

None of the women ever reported the incidents to police. But both the alleged victims and others who have worked at the Mattress Factory say the museum’s response has been deeply troubling, from downplaying the severity of the allegations to retaliating against critics. The result has been months of internal tension at the internationally known contemporary-art landmark on the North Side, with employees contending that museum management did not take their fears – or their safety – seriously enough.

The chair of the museum’s board says that the museum has responded appropriately. But on Monday, three former and one current Mattress Factory employee filed a complaint against the museum with the National Labor Relations Board over how museum officials responded to their concerns. It’s a move that might take the conflict to a new level.

WESA has spoken with a dozen current or former museum employees for this story, five of whom allege sexual abuse. Mattress Factory officials say they’ve taken steps to safeguard employees in the future. But the wounds seem likely to linger.

One night in June 2013, a college student who volunteered and worked part-time at the Mattress Factory was hanging out in her apartment with a male co-worker several years older with whom she’d formerly had a sexual relationship. That evening, she says, he forced himself on her sexually.

“I repeatedly told him to stop and he wouldn’t stop,” says the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It was kind of frustrating going through that whole meeting and I have to sort of explain to him why I would feel uncomfortable working with a rapist."

The woman – who provided details of the incident but asked that they not be publicized – was too scared to fight back. “I was afraid that he would get violent with me if I tried to move away,” she says.

Afterward, she was “kind of in shock.” It wasn’t until later, when she told friends about the incident, that she understood what had happened as rape: “I didn’t realize it could be somebody you trusted acting without your consent.”

She was 22, and didn’t file criminal charges. “I was too afraid to, ’cause it’s just so common that people don’t believe women in this position or even men in this position,” she says. Nor did she tell the museum that employed both her and her alleged assailant.

But the incident traumatized her, she says. In school, she had trouble focusing. At work, she stopped talking to the man, but found herself unable to function when he was nearby. “I was getting really flustered,” she says. “I couldn’t really perform my duties without being really uncomfortable.” As a result, she says, a couple of months after the incident, the museum asked her not to come back. (She went on to complete school and find other work, but still suffers from PTSD, she says.)

More than two years later, in November 2015, out of the blue, she was contacted by a Mattress Factory employee, a young woman who had briefly been a co-worker there. A third woman, another former museum employee, had urged the second to get in touch: All three, it seemed, had been in relationships with the same co-worker, and all three had suffered both verbal and physical abuse.

The male employee, who worked in the exhibitions department, had a reputation among the young women at the museum for predatory behavior. “There was always this climate of anxiousness and avoidance around him,” says Sarah Thornton, who worked at the museum for two years, ending in December.

Other women recall feeling that they had to watch out for the female interns the man would approach at museum functions. Sharyn Morrow, the museum’s café manager until June, says she warned two of her employees about the man. “I said, ‘Whatever you do, stay away from [him],’” she says. “Because I just knew. He moved his way through the girls at the Mattress Factory.”

The Mattress Factory's main building, as seen from Jacksonia Street, on the North Side.
Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

Over the next two years, more women talked, and more stories accumulated. One woman, who lived with the man briefly, said he wrenched her arm, injuring her shoulder, in 2014.

Another, who had a sexual relationship with the man, says he sexually assaulted her in 2015. One night at his apartment, she says, he “opened his pants, and forced my head down onto his penis.” She said no. But several minutes later, “he grabbed me by the hair, yanked my head back really hard.” He also ripped her shirt, hit her in the crotch with his hand, and “tried to have sex with me without a condom on,” she says.

“I said, ‘Stop,’ ‘no’ and ‘you’re hurting me’ multiple times,” she says. Finally, she fought him off.

Like several of the alleged victims, she worked with the man in the exhibitions department, as an art installer. Many of the alleged harassment incidents happened in the museum’s galleries during the intense periods of physical labor required to build or de-install room-sized artworks of the type the museum specializes in. Later, as this woman began hearing stories from other women the man had allegedly mistreated, she says, she stopped speaking to him at work. But when she resumed talking to him, he seemed to take it as permission to sexually harass her.

“He would find reasons to touch me,” she says. “He would try to rub my shoulders. He would press up against me, smell my hair, find ways to be alone with me in tight spaces. And actually at some point I walked him outside the museum and I told him he had to stop doing this.”

WESA attempted to reach the alleged perpetrator for comment, but phone messages went unreturned.

The stories of abuse were still known only within a small social circle. In a couple cases, the women discussed harassment and verbal abuse by the man and only later acknowledged more serious incidents. That was the case with a female former co-worker whom one Mattress Factory employee had been in touch with for months before she acknowledged that the man had raped her, in late 2014. One night, after she and the man had consensual sex, she had awoken to him having penetrative sex with her. She told him to stop and he didn’t.

She, too, never considered reporting the incident. “I loved that job so much. It was everything to me,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave, and I was afraid I would be ostracized or fired or not believed in any way, if I had reported it in any way.” Afterward, she said, the man began sexually harassing her at work: unsolicited shoulder rubs, smelling her hair, “maybe grab[bing] down my pants a little bit.” But she feared telling museum management. “There was a chance if I said anything I would lose my job, because they would believe him and not me.”

"We have an absolute commitment to the safety of our employees and the workplace."

The woman left the museum in 2016 for reasons unrelated to the sexual misconduct. Talking later with the other alleged victims, she says, was helpful. One of them agreed with her, for instance, that they had not talked about their assaults previously because they were in denial. (“I didn’t want to be a victim,” says this second woman. “I didn’t want to admit that I had been victimized.”)

The discussions also demonstrated to the victim of the alleged 2014 rape that she wasn’t alone. “I had thought the incident was just with me up until that point,” she said.

The current Mattress Factory employee who reached out to the woman heard about this second alleged rape in December 2017. This was just two months after multiple women in the entertainment industry made international news by alleging sexual abuse, including rape, by famed movie producer Harvey Weinstein, propelling the #MeToo movement. The woman who had sought out the others thought about the man who had assaulted her. “And the more that I heard about things he had done to my friends, the more that I learned about other friends that he had done things to, and the more angry and upset that I got,” she says.

She was tired of simply being angry about it. So she decided to approach the Mattress Factory leadership.

The Mattress Factory was founded in 1977, by Barbara Luderowski, a widowed artist and industrial designer from Michigan. Luderowski was in her 40s, with a 10-year-old daughter, when she visited Pittsburgh, liked it and stayed. She purchased a hulking six-story former mattress factory and turned it into an artists’ collective, complete with studios, performance spaces and a vegetarian co-operative café. Early on, Luderowski was joined by Michael Olijnyk, a Carnegie Mellon University student who eventually moved into the building. The two of them would spend the next four decades building the museum together; they lived together on its top floor and had a joint work email address.

In the early 1980s, the Mattress Factory began specializing in the then-new field of installation art, commissioning room-sized, site-specific works.

Exhibits, built from scratch on site by artists in residence, might require that tons of topsoil be trucked in; multi-channel video displays on all four walls; or a giant pool of paint in the lobby for an artist to dive into. The museum displays permanent works by such world-renowned figures as James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama (whose “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room” is synonymous with the museum). And it’s known for exhibits tackling social issues, like one some years ago featuring Cuban artists, and a recent one exploring race and civil rights in both South Africa and the U.S.

The Mattress Factory is a big tourist draw with a budget of $1.9 million, and its chief fundraiser, the Urban Garden Party, is one of the local arts community’s largest annual social events. The museum has a reputation as an open, welcoming place that often highlights women artists and artists of color; one permanent exhibits is an installation by the late transgender artist Greer Lankton. In recent years, the Mattress Factory has become venerable while maintaining its status as one of Pittsburgh’s most adventuresome spots for visual art. In 2016, it installed its biggest public artwork to date, Hans Peter Kuhn’s “Acupuncture,” a series of large-scale incandescent poles that give the illusion of puncturing the museum’s roof and can be seen from across town.

Luderowski, who died May 30 at age 88, was a local arts icon, famed for her candor and resolve. Until becoming ill last fall, she was a daily presence in the museum’s halls.

But while the Mattress Factory is known publicly for its progressive stance, internally it functions much like other medium-sized arts organizations. Of its staff of nearly 50, two-thirds are part-timers. Many employees started there as interns or volunteers and stayed on part-time because they believed in the museum’s mission and cutting-edge artwork; more than one current or former employee interviewed for this story called her time at the museum her “dream job.” Some of the young women there viewed Luderowski as a role model. “I kind of idolized her, for lack of a better term,” says one former employee.

But as at most workplaces, low-paid, part-time workers, even those with years of tenure, have minimal say in how things are run.

No one interviewed for this story recalled the museum ever before fielding allegations of sexual misconduct between employees. That changed on Feb. 23, when a young woman – the one who’d reached out most to fellow alleged victims – sat down in Olijnyk’s office and told him that her male co-worker had sexually assaulted and sexually harassed her three years earlier. (They were joined by an administrative staffer taking notes, the woman says.)

“I’ve never had to deal with this before,” she says Olijnyk told her. But, she adds, “Michael seemed very, very concerned. He seemed to take it very seriously, and it seemed like he was going to figure out a way to do something about it.”

“I felt like a weight had been lifted,” she says. “I felt like I had finally taken some action and it was no longer my responsibility to take any more action, that Michael was going to handle it.”

In all, she says, Olijnyk would interview four alleged victims, with a fifth turning in a written statement. (Four of the five no longer worked at the museum.) Three of the other employees who alleged abuse confirmed to WESA that Olijnyk interviewed them, and that he seemed concerned. (One was the victim of the alleged rape in 2014, but she didn’t mention it during the interview with Olijnyk because he asked about incidents on museum grounds.)

The employee who had first approached Olijnyk back in February waited.

Eleven weeks after her interview, on May 11, she got a letter from Olijnyk saying that the investigation was complete, but the only consequence of it the letter noted was that the male employee – the alleged perpetrator of rape, sexual assault, assault and numerous incidents of sexual harassment – had “received and completed workplace harassment training.”

“The Mattress Factory,” Olijnyk added in the letter, “respects the dignity and professionalism of each of its employees, and is committed to maintaining a work environment that is free from discrimination and unlawful harassment.”

“I felt demoralized,” says the woman who first approached Olijnyk. “I felt completely let down. I would say I felt crushed. Because I felt like they weren’t doing anything about it.”

Worse, she says, the alleged perpetrator still worked at the museum, where most employees as yet did not know about the allegations. She says she feared there would be more incidents: “I was concerned he was going to be in a position to do this to people who didn’t know anything about him.”

Word about Olijnyk’s letter spread quickly. Two female employees expressed concern to their supervisors. On May 14, both were called to meet with Olijnyk separately. One of them was Daphne Lyda, who works part-time in the exhibitions department. Lyda was especially upset that the alleged perpetrator was still working there. “I had no idea that this was happening and I felt like it was the wrong decision given that this person had exhibited … ongoing predatory behavior towards his women co-workers,” she says.

Olijnyk, she says, asked why she was uncomfortable working at the museum: “Did something happen to you?” When Lyda said no, Olijnyk responded, “‘Well, if nothing happened to you, then why are you uncomfortable?’ And I told him that I felt uncomfortable that I was working in a close environment every single day with someone who had sexually assaulted or harassed other people while they were working at the museum.”

“It was kind of frustrating going through that whole meeting and I have to sort of explain to him why I would feel uncomfortable working with a rapist,” says Lyda.

She adds that Olijnyk charged that an employee was leading a “mob” against the museum; Lyda took him to mean the woman who had first approached him about the sexual misconduct.

“I explained to him that it was not an organized mob and that the people were individually coming forward to speak to their supervisors,” she says.

Lyda says she began fearing she’d be fired. She wasn’t – she still works at the museum – but she left that May 14 meeting in tears. The second employee Olijnyk met with that day, who spoke on condition of anonymity, describes an experience similar to Lyda’s.

Olijnyk – who after Luderowski’s death was made the Mattress Factory’s executive director -- has frequently served as a museum spokesperson over the years. However, the museum did not make him available to comment for this story.

Two days after those two interviews, on May 16, came the museum’s regular staff meeting. When the alleged perpetrator attended, one male employee took him aside and suggested he leave, witnesses say. Shortly after, the woman who’d first approached Olijnyk, and who alleged she’d been sexually assaulted, was on the street outside the museum’s annex, on Monterey Street, when, she says, she was accosted by the alleged perpetrator’s parents.

“We passed each other on the sidewalk and his mom turned around and said, ‘There’s that bitch,’” she says. His parents, she says, verbally berated her, citing details of the alleged assault and threatening to sue her for libel. “They were screaming at me, and they were using profanity,” the woman says. “It was just like a really traumatizing experience.” (Museum employees say the parents met with Olijnyk that same day, but WESA was unable to confirm this with the museum.)

Late that afternoon, employees finished drafting a letter to Olijnyk they had been working on for two days. The letter asked that the alleged perpetrator be fired. And it demanded that the museum’s board establish a “clear and transparent” process for dealing with future charges of sexual abuse. The two-page document was passed around the museum and garnered the signatures of 18 employees, including two women who alleged abuse, and three male co-workers.

Unable to arrange a meeting with Olijnyk to deliver the letter, four of its signers approached him in the museum’s lobby.

“He knew what was going on when he walked over to us,” says Katie Urich, then the museum’s marketing manager. “He said, ‘Do you have something to give to me?’”

“We tried to express that it was really from a place of concern for the institution, and wanting to make the museum a better place, and he was so angry that he was shaking,” Urich says. “And he said that we had really turned this into quite a situation now. And I responded, “I think it’s been a situation for 11 or 12 weeks now.”

Nicole K. Hall, then the museum’s development manager, was the one who handed Olijnyk the letter. “He folded it. He shoved it in his bag without reading it, and he said, ‘you know what this is right here? This is a libel lawsuit. This wasn’t a thing, now you’ve made it a thing’ and stormed off,” she says.

Hall says Olijnyk’s response surprised her. “I think we sort of thought perhaps this was an oversight, if we just pointed it out to them, Michael would just right the situation,” she says. “We really trusted him and felt like an institution as progressive as the Mattress Factory would surely do the right thing. So I was in that moment really shocked that he didn’t want to have a conversation with us, because all he ever talks about is ‘have a conversation’ and ‘open up dialogue’ and ‘touch on tough topics as a museum.’”

“We just wanted like a basic decent reaction,” says the staffer who first approached Olijnyk. “We didn’t want to like, you know, go crazy at the museum, or like cause a revolution, or anything like that.”

But from there, say numerous employees, things only got more contentious.

Several employees who’d signed the letter said Olijnyk suddenly stopped speaking to them. One of them was Urich, who reported directly to Olijnyk but says that at one point they didn’t talk for two weeks. Then, “after he was finished ignoring me, when I did see him, he would kind of abruptly yell at me, about work projects that in some cases we hadn’t talked about in months,” she says. “He started micromanaging me, which had not been an issue before.”

Hall says, “Michael refused to speak to me, or make eye contact with me, aside from glaring at me. It completely changed the relationship. That went on for months.” And the day after the letter was delivered, her own direct supervisor told her that she liked her and wanted to keep working with her, but that she shouldn’t talk about the sexual-abuse allegations at work. “I felt at that time like my job was threatened by her,” Hall says. She says she was removed from some job duties, including attending board meetings.

The employees’ National Labor Relations Board complaint filed Sept. 24 named Olijnyk plus Hall’s supervisor and two other supervisors at the museum as having allegedly discriminated or otherwise retaliated against employees who had signed the May 16 letter.

All this was happening during what proved to be museum founder Barbara Luderowski’s final illness. Staffers knew she was sick – she hadn’t been seen at the Mattress Factory for months – and they say they were sympathetic to the stress on Olijnyk. Staffers, however, didn’t know that Luderowski was dying, says Urich.

Several employees say that at a staff meeting shortly after Luderowski’s death, Olijnyk apologized for his behavior, and some say things got a bit less tense at the museum. But many still felt the organization’s response to the allegations was insufficient. The situation was not helped by a May 25 all-staff sexual harassment training run by outside consultants, which some staff felt was patronizing. (One employee reportedly quit that same day, citing the museum’s response to the allegations of abuse; in the coming months, more resignations would follow.) No one interviewed for this article could recall any prior sexual-harassment training for museum employees.

Frustrated with Olijnyk, staffers approached the museum’s board of directors. In late May, some began forwarding to the board written statements from employees, including: one alleged victim of sexual harassment who hadn’t come forward earlier (making her the sixth alleged victim); a woman Olijnyk had interviewed about harassment who now said the alleged perpetrator had raped her, as well; and others who said they had been retaliated against for speaking out.

Board chair Michael White told WESA that he learned of Olijnyk’s investigation of the sexual-misconduct allegations in March. (White says the investigation was by then complete; complainants say they were not informed until May.)

“This was a shocking thing for the Mattress Factory,” he said. “We’ve never had anything happen like this before. … It rocked us to our core.”

“We have an absolute commitment to the safety of our employees and the workplace,” he said.

White stood behind Olijnyk’s investigation. But, citing employee confidentiality – and the fact that no criminal charges had been filed – he declined to discuss details of any of the allegations.

Asked about complaints that administrators including Olijnyk had retaliated against staffers who criticized the museum’s response, White said, “there was some concern I think that communication was diminished” between staff and management.

A June 4 letter from White to museum staff, interns and volunteers, obtained by WESA, acknowledged “serious allegations against a Mattress Factory staff member” and “a breakdown in communications and a lack of trust in the process.”

The letter announced a new email address that staff could use to communicate directly with the board, and plans to “develop a more permanent and robust Human Resources group,” revise the employee handbook, and update the policy for investigating complaints. It also announced that the alleged perpetrator had left the museum. (White declined to discuss the terms of his departure.)

Employees say it was they who first pushed the museum to create a real human resources position. But some of the employees’ most serious complaints went unaddressed. One was why the alleged perpetrator wasn’t suspended immediately, pending the investigation, as often happens when employees are accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, he continued working there for about three months. Asked why in a Sept. 19 phone interview, White said, “Those are things that I’m not going to discuss today. The people that made the allegations were asked if they wanted to go to the authorities, and again, they asked for confidentiality and did not want to pursue that with the authorities, and I guess that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.”

The Mattress Factory's banner hangs from its Annex on Monterey Street.
Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA

Another employee grievance was why “remedial workplace harassment training” (as the board termed it in a written statement issued Sept. 18) was thought sufficient redress for an employee accused of rape and sexual assault. “You have to put that in the context of the investigation, and again I don’t want to get into those specifics,” said White.

Many current and former employees remain skeptical of the board’s response, which on June 7 included a rare joint meeting of the board and staff. Hall, the former development manager, attended and says that White kept emphasizing that the museum had done everything required by law. She says staffers responded, “We’re not asking have you done everything legally that you’re obligated to do. We’re asking, ‘Can you do things that are right?’”

Asked to provide a better way for employees to report claims of sexual misconduct, Hall says, the board responded with a list of names. All four were men, including White himself and Olijnyk. “And I had to ask, can we have a woman appointed to go to? And they sort of got all embarrassed, like they hadn’t realized that they had just presented us with four men we could talk to about sexual harassment.”

“They weren’t listening and they were missing the point time and time and time again,” she adds.

Urich also attended the meeting. “In general I didn’t feel a lot of support from the board,” she says. “I felt that they were really just trying to protect the institution, but not really worrying about staff safety.”

One of the women who’d alleged she’d been raped was also disappointed by the investigation and the museum’s response. “Relaying this experience to someone who seemed sympathetic in such great detail – to have them basically dismiss everything I said was exactly why I hadn’t told anybody for so long,” she says. “Just to have somebody not actually listen to me, and kind of let somebody off the hook. I don’t think that how it was handled was appropriate.”

Sexual harassment was first ruled an illegal form of workplace discrimination in 1986, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, found in favor of a Washington, D.C., bank teller who said her boss had harassed and raped her repeatedly over three years. The court said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not limited to economic harm, and that such acts could create “a hostile or abusive work environment.”

Best practices on workplace sexual misconduct today start with ongoing training for employees (including supervisors) about what constitutes such behavior, says Joseph Quinn, a labor and employment attorney with the Pittsburgh office of Cozen O’Connor. “Too often employers train after an event, and that’s really too late,” Quinn says.

The more serious the allegations, the more best practices call for an accused employee to be suspended pending an investigation, he says. “The reason for this is not disciplinary … but simply to get them out of the workplace,” says Quinn. “You don’t want them retaliating against somebody that comes forward. … Having them away from the workplace is the best way to conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”

Ideally, an investigation should be conducted by someone who is both objective and trained in the process, Quinn says. Objectivity is why some employers hire third parties to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. While the Mattress Factory’s investigation was internal, board chair White said that Olijnyk conducted it with help from the professionals who had developed the group’s employee handbook.

In the case of the Mattress Factory, the alleged incidents of sexual harassment occurred on museum grounds, while the incidents of assault, sexual assault and rape between employees occurred off-site. Quinn says that an employer can be held responsible for off-site behavior if it can be considered work-related – for instance, if the alleged abuser is the victim’s supervisor.

As part of his investigation, Olijnyk interviewed one employee who been raped but didn’t work in the exhibitions department, where her alleged attacker worked. The other woman who said she was raped did work in the alleged perpetrator’s department – but didn’t tell Olijnyk about the assault during his initial investigation because, she says, he asked specifically about incidents that happened on museum grounds. (She says that later, she submitted to the board a statement that included the rape allegation; it was written anonymously, but she said museum officials would have known it was her.)

The woman who alleged that her co-worker sexually assaulted her also worked in exhibitions.

For many museum employees, whether the law would consider the museum responsible for any or all of these incidents is beside the point. Someone accused of predatory and violent behavior was allowed to remain among them. Some employees recalled incidents over the years of other employees being fired for things like neglecting to secure a portion of the building at day’s end. “We thought that everybody’s employment at the Mattress Factory was kind of precarious, but that it was sort of in an equitable way,” said Hall, the former development manager. “But we found out that no, if you’re accused of rape, you won’t be fired.”

Many current and former employees, even the most critical, remain committed to the Mattress Factory.

“We all so strongly believe in what the museum is doing,” says Urich, who resigned in June.

“I did love the job, truly, and I love that museum still,” says one of the women who alleged she was raped.

"We're not asking have you done everything legally that you're obligated to do. We're asking, 'Can you do things that are right?'"

But many say that even at an institution founded by a woman, with an overwhelmingly female staff, sexism remains prevalent.

For instance, after the alleged perpetrator left the museum, in late May, his position as exhibitions coordinator was not advertised, says Urich, who was tasked with posting open jobs. The exhibitions department was mostly women. But the employee who got the job in June was the lone man there, whom multiple sources say was promoted over two more senior women who helped trained him.

One current employee said that while recent measures like hiring a human-resources staffer were “a step in the right direction … the problems are institutional.”

“The Mattress Factory now seems like a really inequitable workplace that has a gender-discrimination problem,” says Hall, who resigned this month.

Several current and former employees say they are most concerned about Olijnyk. Following Luderowski’s death, he was made executive director. But while his skill curating art and working with artists is widely acknowledged, many feel he’s not suited to managing a large operation.

“I think it would be really beneficial for us to hire a new director who is trained for that role,” says one current employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

“He’s a visionary, he’s amazing,” said Sharyn Morrow, the former café manager, whom Olijnyk fired in June, weeks after she signed the May 16 letter. “He needs to deal with the art and not the people. Because he is just not a people person.”

Olijnyk is “a really fantastic curator, but we need someone also who can run a business,” said another current employee, who requested anonymity. She added, “It’s really easy to make him out to be a monster and I don’t think he is. I think he screwed up.”

The Sept. 24 charge was filed by one current employee, Anna-Lena Kempen, and three former employees: Urich, Hall, and Kaylin Carder. (Carder resigned May 30 over how the museum responded to the sexual-misconduct allegations.) The four women charge that the Mattress Factory retaliated against employees who signed the May 16 letter demanding that the alleged perpetrator be fired and that new sexual-misconduct policies be put in place.

An NLRB filing is a civil complaint, not a criminal one, made under a federal law that permits co-workers (even those not in a union) to band together to address issues in the workplace. The NLRB will respond with an investigation, said the women’s attorney, Megan M. Block, of the Pittsburgh-based firm Healey, Block & Hornack. If the board’s regional director decides to file a complaint against the Mattress Factory, the case will go to a hearing before an administrative law judge. If the judge finds against the Mattress Factory, the museum would be subject to a cease-and-desist order.

In response to a request for comment on the filing, Mattress Factory board chair Michael White issued this statement:

“We are immediately launching an independent internal investigation as a result of National Labor Relations Board charges filed on behalf of current and former employees against the Mattress Factory. We take these charges very seriously, and we will cooperate with the NLRB throughout its investigation.  The allegations described in the complaint do not represent our values. Again, we strongly believe in our responsibility to provide a safe, positive environment where staff are able to learn, grow and develop in their roles.”

Block say her clients do not wish to harm the museum.

“I think the hope is to reach an amicable resolution with management,” she says. “These employees are open to a discussion. And at this point, there really has not been a discussion. It’s been isolated incidents of intimidation. We’re hoping that by filing the charge, management will be willing to sit down and have a real conversation with employees about these changes.”

Hall agrees.

“I would like for places like the Mattress Factory to hold themselves to a high ethical standard that is reflective of their progressive values and not just attempt to get by with what is legal, or what they can get away with in terms of how they treat their staff,” she says. “I would like this to be an example that perhaps leads to real change.”

This story was updated on Sept. 26, 2018 to correct the date of the May 14 meeting between Lyda and Olijnyk.