Photo by Alex Boerner
The Carolina Theatre in Durham
Looks like there's more trouble for the Carolina Theatre after two women who were fired from their positions are appealing the actions with the city, which owns the theater.
The appeals are just another chapter in an ongoing saga that has left a lot of people asking, "What the heck is going on?" In December 2015, then-CEO Bob Nocek reported that the theater—after an accounting mix-up—was more than a million dollars in debt, after announcing revenues had doubled in previous years. Then, two months later, the theater was also said to have turned a profit. After asking—and being denied—to have an advance on its contract, the theater went through a vigorous fundraising campaign to attempt to dig itself out of the hole.
The city council, while opting not to give a full advance, did decide to provide up to $500,000 of money to the theater—but only in a dollar-for-dollar match—meaning the theater can't get the money from the city until it's already been raised. The board previously agreed to provide $100,000 to ensure the theater didn't shutter in February. Annually, the city pays $654,000 to have the theater's nonprofit run the facility.
But now, it has a whole new battle—one that involves two women appealing their firings to the Carolina Theatre board, both claiming they were wrongfully terminated. Both point the finger at interim-CEO Dan Berman's management style creating a hostile work environment.
The appeal letters from Regina Mancha and Michelle Irvine detail a work environment that has made them, and other employees, uncomfortable and at some points, the hostility has turned into discrimination.
started working at the theater in July, but was fired in early October. She'd previously worked at the theater and was told that she was classified as a re-hire, not a new employee—thus meaning she wouldn't have to go through a probationary period.
Both of the appeal letters were sent to members of the city council on October 16, just more than an hour apart.
Irvine, who alerted the council about her grievances on September 18, was placed on administrative leave the following day. She also wrote to the council and city manager Tom Bonfield on October 7, detailing possible retaliation by the board after she was dismissed from her position as chief operations officer. Mancha, who was a business manager, was dismissed on the same day.
Irvine, who describes herself as the "whistleblower" of the financial situation, hasn't sugar-coated her thoughts about the situation.
Here's an excerpt from her letter:
The only issues I’ve had at the Carolina Theatre began with Dan Berman and end with Dan Berman. Every reason given for termination regarding my “behavior” all has to do with Dan and no one else. The entire situation was created by and because of Dan Berman. None of these problems were there prior to Dan Berman and they will cease to be there once Dan Berman is gone. So why is the person with six years of exemplary work history, steadfast dedication and loyalty to the Carolina Theatre the one who is no longer employed? Dan Berman is “Interim” and only here for another eight months tops. So why is he being allowed to make drastic organizational changes (based on no knowledge of the business) that will have far reaching repercussions for the theatre- Changes that any new CEO with an actual knowledge of the industry will immediately change? My attempts to lend my expertise and knowledge of the Carolina Theatre as well as my vast knowledge of the industry, could have been of great benefit to Dan Berman but instead he has chosen to dismiss me completely because all my instincts and all my experience tells me that the things Dan is trying to do are wrong – wrong for the staff and wrong for the organization in general. My top priority has always been to provide a fair, welcoming and inclusive environment for our staff and our patrons. That is not the culture present under Dan Berman. Allowing him to stay on and forcing me out makes no sense.
(You can read her full letter here.)
Berman has denied any wrongdoing.