Frog Hollow Finds No ‘Intentional Discrimination’ at its Gallery | Arts News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Frog Hollow Finds No ‘Intentional Discrimination’ at its Gallery


Published March 4, 2022 at 1:58 p.m.
Updated March 9, 2022 at 10:17 a.m.

Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery
Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery has concluded that no “intentional discrimination” occurred against its former assistant manager, Misoo Bang, but acknowledged in a statement that it “needs to make some changes to insure that its commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment is better realized in the future.”

The downtown Burlington gallery posted its remarks on Facebook Tuesday, in response to a report issued by the independent investigator it hired to look into the allegations.

Bang, who in December alleged “multiple incidents of discrimination” against her by her supervisor, told Seven Days that she was disappointed in the post because it did not publicly acknowledge that the incidents took place. “And there was no apology,” she said, unlike the one she received privately.

In a February 24 email to Bang, which she shared with Seven Days, Frog Hollow Craft Association board president Carol MacDonald acknowledged and apologized for Bang’s experience.

“Based on the investigation Frog Hollow has concluded that although there was no intentional discrimination as defined by law, it is clear that you experienced language and conduct that are inconsistent with Frog Hollow’s commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment.” MacDonald wrote. She added, “On behalf of Frog Hollow, I am sorry — and disappointed — about your experience at Frog Hollow.”

The supervisor, who was the gallery manager, no longer works for Frog Hollow, according to gallery lawyer Beth Danon.

Bernie Lambek, a lawyer representing the former gallery manager said that his client denies that there was any discrimination or any harassment. Lambek said he has seen Bang’s social media posts describing alleged incidents, and that they contain “false and defamatory and malicious accusations … and they were not substantiated by the independent investigator.”
Bang, who is of Korean descent, told Seven Days in December that the gallery manager made racially inappropriate comments in a “very casual, laughing manner” during the three years Bang worked there. 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 recalled.

She 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 told Seven Days in December. “All this was nothing to her but my Asian-ness, my skin color,” she said.

Gallery lawyer Danon said in December that “much of what’s been alleged has been denied.”

Bang resigned last March and now teaches at Saint Michael’s College and at the Shelburne Craft School, where she is equity and inclusion art program director. Days after she left Frog Hollow, Bang said she raised her concerns with MacDonald.

It was not Bang’s intent, Bang said Wednesday, to attack the gallery manager, who, Bang believed said “ignorant stuff” jokingly, not intending to discriminate. “But she shouldn't have because it was hurting everybody, it was hurting me," Bang said. "And it was hurting other staff.”

But there was no one for her to turn to but the gallery manager, she said. Bang feared she'd be fired if she did that.  So instead she resigned and contacted the Frog Hollow board to suggest that it educate staff about inappropriate conduct and set up a system for employees to report such situations.

After months of correspondence — which included MacDonald, at least one other board member and staffers, according to emails Bang shared with Seven Days — Bang concluded that her concerns had been dismissed, so she posted them on social media.

In December, Frog Hollow hired Montpelier lawyer Denise Bailey to investigate.

Over the course of eight weeks, Bailey interviewed 15 current and former Frog Hollow staffers, artists and board members, according to Danon. On February 7, Bailey presented her factual — not legal — conclusions to Frog Hollow.

Danon said the facts did not meet the legal definition of discrimination.

“In order to have discrimination based on any protected category in employment, there has to be an adverse employment action,” Danon said. For example, she explained, the complainant must be demoted, fired or unfairly disciplined. That didn’t happen to Bang, Danon said. “In fact, the person she complained of promoted her,” she noted.

Danon added that Bang’s experience “didn’t quite meet the standard” for her to file a harassment claim based on race. To meet that standard, Danon said, the situation “has to be so severe or pervasive, that it's seen by a reasonable person as causing a workplace that is hostile and, or abusive.”

Frog Hollow has pledged to take a number of steps, including developing a clear process for addressing discrimination claims, updating equal employment and inclusion policies, diversifying its boards and requiring employees and board members to attend a series of workshops designed to build empathy and address racial oppression.

When Bang read about such measures in MacDonald’s email, she said, she was relieved and happy. “And I told her that I’ll be cheering for Frog Hollow,” Bang said, adding that prompting a systemic change there has been her goal all along.

Frog Hollow interim executive director Daniel Zeese, who joined the organization in January, said the measures Frog Hollow plans to take will be ongoing.

“I think everything is going to be constantly in the works,” Zeese said, adding that Frog Hollow is scheduling workshops with the Peace & Justice Center of Vermont.

But even once workshops are complete, “it's not like a checkmark,” Zeese said. Rather, it’s “just the beginning of, hopefully, a history of education and participating with that organization.”

Bang remains part of the Frog Hollow community, according to Zeese. The fact that she resigned, but continued to engage with board and staff members “spoke volumes,” Zeese said. “I think that's just someone who cares very much about this institution and believes in the institution.”