The New York Botanical Garden discriminated against minority students and made a “lowball” offer to avoid hiring an observant Jew, according a civil rights lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court on Wednesday.
Andrea Chusid, a former director of membership and visitor experience administration, claimed in the suit that she repeatedly told her bosses about discriminatory behavior she witnessed in 2015 and 2016 but instead of doing something about it, they punished and eventually fired her for speaking up.
In 2015, she said she witnessed a group of white students given access to a special exhibit of paintings. That same day, mostly minority students from a charter school in Bronx who watched as white students were allowed inside, were initially denied entrance to the building.
The charter school students were eventually permitted to the view the exhibit for a few minutes at the end of their visit, according to the lawsuit, but the incident sparked Chusid to make a complaint.
When she reported it to human resources, citing the lack of support from her supervisor, Marci Silverman, Silverman began treating her differently, she claims. She replaced praise and support with negative feedback, the lawsuit says.
In her claim, she also says that groups of public school students who are supposed to have free access to the grounds and exhibitions were routinely forced to purchase All Garden passes and were still denied entry to special exhibitions.
Additionally, Chusid said she saw further discrimination when she was then involved in the hiring of a membership coordinator. The preferred candidate also had another job offer and NYBG was planning on raising the salary offer from $40,000 to $45,000.
But when Silverman found out the candidate was an observant Jew, she expressed concerns about her schedule, and suggested offering her a “lowball” offer of $35,000 so that she would feel compelled to reject it.
“Silverman’s suggestion was blatant, unlawful discrimination towards an observant Jewish candidate,” the lawsuit says.
After Chusid formally complained, the investigation into the incident was quickly closed after only Silverman’s account was heard, according to the suit.
The boss began to nitpick about her work and gave less positive annual reviews, Chusid claims, and “harsh retaliatory treatment” caused Chusid emotional stress and anxiety that required medication, the lawsuit says.
Chusid applied for family and medical leave and received a final written warning from Silverman the following day. A week after Chusid’s leave was approved, she was fired, according to the suit.
She is asking for lost wages, lost future earnings, lawyers fees, court fees and other damages.
The New York Botanical Garden, where Silverman still works as a vice president for membership and visitor experience, did not respond to a request for comment.