Judge sides with workers in Guthrie Theater labor dispute

The Guthrie Theater
The Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis, as seen in February 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2015

A judge has ordered the Guthrie Theater to cease and desist from unfair labor practices.

The order is part of a judgment issued Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.

It found the Minneapolis theater's administration threatened and punished employees for engaging in union-protected activities.

Carpenters Nate Saul and Molly Diers resigned from the Guthrie in January 2018, citing a toxic work environment that was particularly difficult for women. The 30-page judgment found that Diers received a poor performance review and employees were threatened for speaking up repeatedly about harassment in the scene shop.

Carpenter Molly Diers at work in the Guthrie Theater scene shop.
Carpenter Molly Diers at work in the Guthrie Theater scene shop in March 2015.
Megan Engeseth Photography

It also found that multiple Guthrie Theater managers failed to give reliable testimony.

Diers said the judge's decision is morally significant.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

"It's a big deal in the sense that we have won in our favor for unions — and in my opinion I've made a win for women standing up for themselves in workplaces, because this case could be cited in future cases," Diers said. "It is huge — I mean, I'm trying not to be emotional, but it's a really big deal!"

The judgment does not include a financial settlement. It orders the Guthrie Theater to cease and desist in its unfair labor practices, and post notices throughout its building stating as much. Saul said he felt validated reading the judge's decision.

"I really hope that the management at the Guthrie takes this to heart and starts to self-reflect in a way that they hadn't prior to this incident," said Saul, "reflecting on how they're choosing to interact with the staff and how they're choosing to interact with the people who work there."

In a statement, Guthrie Theater management said it respectfully disagrees with the ruling, but will not appeal the decision. Last year the company conducted an independent investigation into accusations of sexual harassment. The investigation found that in multiple instances staffers made inappropriate comments to female colleagues, and that there were ongoing issues with workplace culture.

Diers filed charges of discrimination against the Guthrie with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. In December 2018 the DCR found that the complaint failed to meet the burden of proof.

Correction (July 8, 2019): An earlier version of this story reported Diers and Saul received poor performance reviews and were denied promotions. The judgment document shows that only Diers received a poor review, and it does not indicate that promotions were denied.