Mazzoni defends ‘legitimate’ firing amid accusations

Mazzoni defends ‘legitimate’ firing amid accusations

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Mazzoni Center officials blasted accusations of discrimination in the recent termination of its first director of diversity and inclusion and said they welcome an investigation into the matter.

In a strongly worded statement to PGN on Tuesday, Mazzoni Center defended the termination of Kay Martinez on Aug. 20, one which prompted a walkout of nearly 50 employees and supporters, including director of the Mayor’s Office for LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes.

“The reason for Kay Martinez’s termination was disagreement with the Mazzoni Center management team that resulted in unprofessional conduct that was inconsistent for someone in their role,” according to Mazzoni’s written statement. “We believe the facts, when communicated in the appropriate forum, will be obvious proof that we could not continue the employment of Martinez, a high-level director.”

The position of director of diversity and inclusion was created by interim CEO Stephen Glassman with a salary of around $100,000. Martinez relocated from Massachusetts to begin working at Mazzoni Center in March.

Martinez has since filed a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and publicly accused Mazzoni Center of wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination. Martinez, who identifies as transgender and uses they/them pronouns, said that weeks after Lydia Gonzalez-Sciarrino took over as CEO in April, their job description changed and was essentially downgraded.

Martinez told PGN that Gonzalez-Sciarrino lacked “LGBTQ and trans competency,” claiming the CEO misgendered them on their first day working for Mazzoni Center.

“Gonzalez-Sciarrino took on an ally role once she became the leader of an LGBTQ organization. There needs to be a demonstration of a high level of LGBTQ competency, no matter who it is,” said Martinez. “I’m not saying this heterosexual, cisgendered Latina person has no business being there — it’s about her level of LGBTQ competency. I had to educate the CEO on what my pronouns were and how to properly use the they/them pronouns, and that displayed a very significant trans incompetency.”

Martinez said that since filing the complaint to investigate their termination, they have been “taking time to heal from the traumatic experience” of working with the nonprofit.

In Tuesday’s statement, Mazzoni Center officials said they welcomed an inquiry into the firing.

“Kay’s employment was terminated for legitimate reasons, not unlawful discrimination, and we are confident an impartial investigation in the appropriate manner will fully vindicate our legitimate business decision.”

Mazzoni Center officials previously have said they do not comment publicly on internal personnel matters.

In a joint statement Aug. 23, state Rep. Brian Sims and state Sen. Larry Farnese said they are “fed up” with Mazzoni Center’s “inability to live up to the promises of transparency, accountability, and engagement made to us and members of our community.”

The elected officials accused Mazzoni Center of discrimination that is preventing the organization from moving on from a series of internal scandals over the past two years.

“Inclusion and ethnic diversity cannot be espoused as priorities within an institution while discrimination continues to be perpetrated that runs contrary to those policies,” they said in the statement.

Farnese defended the statement in an email to PGN on Aug. 27, saying he was not commenting on the legality of the firing. “I view the statement we issued as a part of my job as an elected official: to hold accountable a nonprofit that received public funds to ensure they are meeting the obligations of their commitments to their employees, the community and the commonwealth.”

But the state senator did reiterate the accusation of discrimination at Mazzoni Center.

“The point is that these issues of discrimination continue to arise, and they must be addressed in order for the Mazzoni Center to heal itself from the inside out,” said Farnese.

Hikes did not comment for this article. But Mayor Jim Kenney’s office issued a statement Monday to PGN expressing “serious concerns” about the Martinez firing.

“It is very important to me that our LGBTQ community is safe and supported and I recommend to anyone who feels discriminated against to file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR), as [Martinez] did. I commend the former director for taking this important step and I look forward to receiving PCHR’s findings,” Kenney said.

Sims and Farnese called upon Mazzoni Center to reinstate Martinez.

“We believe Kay Martinez should be fully reinstated; their support of Mazzoni staff that led to their termination is evidence of why they are needed,” they stated. “In our conversations with Mazzoni staff, it was clear that Kay was not only respected for their leadership in working to rectify the longstanding issues of failing to treat Mazzoni staffers of color equitably and respectfully but also needed because many of these same problems continued to plague this organization.”

Mazzoni Center director of communications Larry Benjamin said Hikes, Kenney, Sims and Farnese had not reached out to management to discuss the Martinez firing. 

Adriana Fraser contributed to this report.

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