An independent investigator will examine an allegation of workplace discrimination made against Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery in Burlington, according to Beth Danon, a lawyer for the nonprofit that runs the store.
Frog Hollow is hiring Montpelier lawyer Denise Bailey to investigate claims of discrimination made by a former assistant manager of the gallery. The shop on the Church Street Marketplace exhibits and sells the work of Vermont artisans and craftspeople.
Misoo Bang, an artist from South Burlington, posted on social media this week allegations of “multiple incidents of discrimination” against her by a Frog Hollow supervisor. Bang, 41, also described those incidents to Seven Days, saying they occurred during the three years she worked there. She resigned in March.
Bang, who is of Korean descent, said the alleged comments by the manager were made in a “very casual, laughing manner.”
The remarks included the supervisor telling Bang that for Halloween she dressed up as a “Chinese slut with a pregnant belly, and my boyfriend was a U.S. soldier,” according to Bang.
On another occasion, when a parade of people dressed in traditional Chinese clothing walked past the gallery, Bang said, the same supervisor “got very excited.” “She said, ‘Misoo, it’s OK if you want to go join your people.’" Bang said the manager also suggested that Bang's "exotic" appearance accounted for her strong gallery sales. The remark dismissed Bang’s expertise and knowledge as a painter with a master’s degree in art, Bang said.
“All this was nothing to her but my Asian-ness, my skin color,” Bang said. “Because people think you’re exotic, they want to buy stuff from you.”
Danon, the Frog Hollow lawyer, said that “much of what’s been alleged has been denied.” The matter is confidential because it’s a personnel issue involving employment, she said. Danon said she recommended to the board that the allegations be investigated by an independent party “who’s going to look at it fresh and has no interest in the outcome."
“If you have one side saying, ‘This was said,’ and the other side saying, ‘I didn’t say it,’ you need to fully investigate,” she said.
Bang expressed dismay at Frog Hollow's decision to hire an investigator.
"They can do what they want," she said. "That's what I experienced. When I heard that they hired a private investigator, I'm like, Wow. That's your solution?''
Bang's alternative solution is that Frog Hollow should work to make a "better environment for the staff members — a safe one, a welcoming one." She said the comments made her feel "like somebody slapped my face. It almost made me not able to respond right away. It made my brain just go blank."
Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery
Bang said she reconsidered her employment at Frog Hollow after six women of Asian descent were killed in Atlanta in March 2021.
“I had this epiphany of, I don’t want to work here as exotic Asian woman with how [her supervisor] is seeing me, anymore,” she said.
Bang told herself: “I went through some racism here, as well, so I want to stop lying to myself and quit my job.”
After she left Frog Hollow, Bang raised her concerns with board president Carol MacDonald. They had correspondence over many months, according to copies of emails Bang shared with Seven Days. The correspondence continued until early December, and included at least one other board member and staffers, according to the emails Bang shared.
“I tried for eight months asking them to update me,” Bang said. She concluded, ‘They’re waiting for me to be quiet. They’re waiting for me to forget about it.’’
On Sunday, she described her experience on social media.
An online petition launchedWednesday asks the Frog Hollow board to address “anti-Asian abuse and racist management” at its Church Street gallery; it had 855 signatures as of 10:25 p.m. Wednesday. Bang is organizing a demonstration outside Frog Hollow on Saturday, December 18, from noon to 5 p.m. She said she's asking people to boycott the gallery.
The Frog Hollow board issued a statement on Wednesday that reads, in part:
"Frog Hollow staff, members, and the general public should be assured that the Board takes these allegations seriously and is committed to ensuring a workplace and public space that is inclusive, equitable and welcoming."
The statement also announces the upcoming investigation.
Danon said the investigation will focus on the allegations that were posted on social media and "allegations that have come to us in different forms, to the extent that they may be different from what' s on social media."
Frog Hollow has heard concerns from other employees, she said, adding that they "aren't related to discrimination."