El Museo del Barrio and its former director, Margarita Aguilar, are embroiled in a legal battle that involves New York State human rights officials. Aguilar, who was terminated from her position on Feb. 14th, claims she was wrongfully dismissed, saying to the New York Times, “This is beyond belief . . . I was doing my duties from the moment I stepped in to the moment I left.” In the termination letter, El Museo lists numerous reasons for Aguilar’s termination, including insufficient fundraising, ineffective leadership and dereliction of duty, as reported in the Times.
Via her attorney, Donald Derfner, Aguilar declared El Museo a hostile workplace where she was discriminated against because of her gender. Aguilar claimed El Museo’s board president, artist Tony Bechara, said she and fellow female colleagues were “acting like hysterical women” when discussing the firing of a staff member, and that board president, former fashion executive Yaz Hernandez, allegedly offered Aguilar unsolicited advice on her wardrobe and personal grooming habits. El Museo insists her firing was solely based on poor job performance.
“More will become clear during the process of discovery,” said New York employment lawyer Edward Hernstadt. “When an employee alleges discrimination and has a witness or a document to back it up, it can be a very powerful case. If it’s one person’s word against another, that can be a more difficult case to win.”
Founded in 1969 and located at Fifth Avenue and 104th Street, El Museo houses a major collection of Latin American art that spans from pre-Columbian to contemporary times. Recent financial difficulties have necessitated sizeable staff layoffs and furloughs, and have required the museum cut its hours, opening only four days per week instead of six.
Von Diaz, a spokesperson for the museum, declined to comment for the Times article. Gonzalo Casals will oversee the museum’s daily operations until a new director is found.