A lawsuit filed in a New York state court in January has brought forth claims against contemporary art dealer Barbara Gladstone and her senior partner, Max Falkenstein, who were accused of retaliating against a former staff member at Gladstone Gallery after she raised concerns about alleged discrimination and violations related to employee compensation at the gallery.
In the complaint, Laura Higgins, who served as a gallery manager for Gladstone in New York from 2016 to 2021, claims she suffered both verbal and physical abuse while working at the gallery and was eventually forced to leave her job.
Higgins claims she was “yelled at [and] disparaged,” and that Gladstone once allegedly threw a handbook at her. In a statement first published by Artnet News, a representative for Gladstone said, “The evidence will show that Ms. Higgins’ claims lack merit, which we intend to defend against forcefully.” When reached by ARTnews, the gallery declined to provide further comment.
Higgins, who is now a managing director at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, alleges that alongside Gladstone, Falkenstein “conspired” to force her out of her job, acting in a “retaliatory” manner after she raised concerns over pay disparities, including that the gallery “maintained a gender-based pay policy that favored a male subordinate employee over a long-time female superior employee,” according to the filing. The suit also claims that a female chief registrar received no health benefits and made at least $10,000 less than a male registrar, who did receive health benefits totaling more than $13,000.
In another example of alleged discrimination at the gallery, the complaint describes a problematic hiring situation that occurred in 2020, after gallery employees successfully lobbied for “series of diversity and anti-discrimination trainings” for all staff in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Higgins claims that Gladstone made racially discriminatory statements while hiring to fill an assistant position. The claim states that Gladstone erroneously assumed the race of one candidate as Black, after learning that the applicant “worked at a Gallery in Harlem, New York.” According to the complaint, Gladstone said she was “glad because now we would have another colored person on staff.” She allegedly declined to move forward in the hiring process, however, after learning that the applicant was, in fact, white.
Shortly before her departure from the gallery, Higgins discovered potentially illegal practices by one gallery director that appeared to be what the suit describes as “blatant violations” of New York wage laws. In the legal filing, Higgins alleged that the gallery’s financial director, Stacy Tunis, falsely recorded the number of hours worked by non-exempt employees to avoid properly allocating state-mandated overtime pay. These employees were also, at various points, unlawfully instructed not to report if they had worked for more than 40 hours in a week. The filing claims those employees, which include at least 10 junior-level staffers who worked as front desk and sales assistants, “are owed substantial amounts of money for unpaid overtime.”
After Higgins left her position last July, the filing also claims that Gladstone retaliated against her by providing “a false review of her performance” to a prospective new employer, artist George Condo, whose work Gladstone had shown in the 1980s. After Higgins signed an employment contract and participated in staff on-boarding with Condo’s studio, her employment offer was rescinded. Condo told Artnet that his studio “ultimately decided upon another applicant.”
The complaint contends that “Gladstone acted with malice” and created “an environment that was toxic, hostile, and discriminatory,” adding that the situation caused Higgins “severe emotional distress” and “loss of past and future income.”