As Mazzoni Center leadership deals with the fallout of firing its first director of diversity and inclusion, more than a half-dozen employees say the internal crisis is harming morale and their ability to serve the community.
Employees in various departments of Mazzoni Center, most of whom requested anonymity, described a “bullying,” “stressful,” “uncomfortable” environment — but cited various reasons for it. Some blamed what they called divisive staff members, while others pointed to management for “not listening” and a “lack of transparency.”
Mazzoni Center’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Kay Martinez, was fired from their position Monday. They were hired as interim CEO Stephen Glassman, himself the subject of an ongoing internal inquiry following anonymous charges of sexual harassment, was preparing to depart in March. Martinez began working for the nonprofit in April.
Martinez, who identifies as queer and transgender and prefers "they" pronouns, immediately protested their firing as “unjust,” prompting an estimated 50 employees to briefly walk out of the building Monday. Martinez told PGN the termination came with no notice or warnings.
“I was given a termination letter that had vague and broad language about unprofessionalism. The letter said that I was in disagreement with senior management, and at no point had I said I disagreed with management,” they said. “I wanted specific examples and [CEO Lydia Gonzalez-Sciarrino] said she couldn’t provide any.”
The Friday prior to the termination, Martinez, 32, posted pictures on Instagram of them and a handful of fellow staff members on Mazzoni Center’s rooftop all wearing T-shirts with the word “DISPERSE” written across the front, as Martinez and another person gave the camera the middle finger. The caption read: “I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I will not #disperse. I will not be silent. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” The post has since been deleted.
Mazzoni Center did not respond to questions around Martinez’s firing. Martinez said they have “reported the matter to local and federal agencies that will be investigating my claims.”
Terrell Green is a former mobile-testing-unit coordinator at Mazzoni Center who resigned Aug. 4 after less than five months on the job. In an Aug. 20 Facebook post, Green wrote, “So happy I left this toxic place,” referring to Mazzoni Center. Green told PGN he resigned because “it was an environment being run by people who had no connection and no knowledge of what was happening in the community. There was a true disconnect between employees and leadership.”
In September 2017, Mazzoni front-line staff voted 51-34 in favor of a petition filed by the Service Employees International Union to unionize.
Management and the union-negotiating committee are currently discussing the terms and conditions of employment with the ultimate goal reaching a collective bargaining. Ahead of the union vote, in yet another Mazzoni Center scandal, Glassman was involved in hiring anti-union consultants to persuade employees not to unionize.
The arrival of Gonzalez-Sciarrino in April prompted protests from a faction of employees denouncing both the hiring process and the hire as unqualified to lead the center because, among other things, she is heterosexual. Since Gonzalez-Sciarrino took over, employees told PGN she is attempting to hold staff accountable for their behavior, but is not communicating in a transparent way.
“Gonzalez-Sciarrino is trying to make some changes, hold people accountable and trying to create a professional atmosphere,” said one employee who has worked at Mazzoni Center for several years.
But the employee described the current workplace as “unsafe.”
“Some staff are now making it unsafe for fellow staff members. There’s a lot of bullying going on,” the source said.
Mazzoni Center senior health and sexuality educator Nefertari Sloan commandeered the microphone at an all-staff meeting Aug. 16 to ask employees to “raise your hands if you feel valued by this organization.” Sloan refused to stop reading from a prepared statement, with Gonzalez-Sciarrino then ordering the staff members to “disperse” and reportedly turning down the microphone.
Martinez gathered employees during lunch the following day on the building’s roof deck “to hear Sloan’s statement,” Martinez said. “It wasn’t about the CEO, it was about Sloan not being able to speak at a staff meeting.” Some employees were dressed in the “DISPERSE” tees.
In an interview with PGN, Sloan defended disrupting the Aug. 16 staff meeting.
“I’m disappointed at the results that my actions have yielded. I was within my rights to speak and the saddest thing for me is that, had I not been interrupted, this would have never happened,” said Sloan.
Some employees who were at the meeting said Sloan’s comments fueled feelings of a now out-of-control workplace.
“That speech that the staff member gave last week — they are within their rights to express themselves, but that was the wrong place and the wrong time,” said the longtime employee. “It made me really uncomfortable and made a lot of other people uncomfortable as well.”
Several other employees agreed.
“The level of disrespect and unprofessionalism shown by some staff has finally crossed the line,” said a second employee. “In an organization with the heavy responsibility of serving as many folks in the LGBTQ+ population in Philly and the surrounding areas, there has to be some limit.”
This employee also expressed understanding for why some staff members feel frustrated — but added that it might be misdirected.
“Most of the staff at Mazzoni Center have faced severe discrimination and oppression throughout most, if not all, of their lives. Mazzoni Center, its administration and our CEO are much safer targets than those outside the organization who are doing the worst acts.”
Another employee said some staff members “keep using their anger to incite other staff,” and that it’s unclear to what end.
“I’m not even sure what they are fighting for anymore. There are those of us that are here to work, and love our jobs, and love what Mazzoni Center has to offer and give as a workplace environment.”
The majority of Mazzoni Center’s employees “do a lot of great work here and may not get recognized on a daily basis,” the employee said, adding that “we would never think of yelling at everyone in a setting like that,” referring to Sloan at the Aug. 16 staff meeting.
“If you look around you and you’re at work right now, would you be able to give the middle finger to your boss, write an open letter to Facebook or Medium and/or yell at all the staff and still survive in your job? If not, maybe you could work at Mazzoni Center.”
UPDATE: Mazzoni Center CEO Lydia Gonzalez-Sciarrino issued the following statement Thursday, Aug. 23 regarding the termination of Martinez:
"Mazzoni Center has historically had an unusual structure and way of operating. As staff have rightly pointed out, this has led to staffing challenges which must—and will be—addressed so that we may increase operational efficiencies, deliver superior customer service, and create a more professional place of employment—all of which are crucial to our ability to effectively run our organization and provide high quality services to the community we serve. I also want our employees to know diversity, equity, and inclusion remain a critical component of our organization. We will be staffing that role to help ensure our recruiting, staffing, and training are sensitive to our LGBTQ community. Our plan is to engage temporarily with a qualified third party consultant to develop additional strategies in the areas of personnel, and diversity, equity and inclusion. At the same time we have a qualified consultant assisting us, we will develop and implement permanent solutions. It is Mazzoni Center’s policy not to disclose specific details or information about personnel matters, in the interest of protecting the privacy of our employees."