Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

Baltimore Symphony principal oboist files sexual harassment complaint against concertmaster

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The principal oboist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has filed a sexual harassment complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the BSO relating to concertmaster Jonathan Carney.

Katherine Needleman alleges in the filing that Carney retaliated against her after she rejected his advances in 2005, and that the orchestra subsequently allowed a hostile work environment.

“This is a problem that needs to be exposed,” Needleman said Tuesday. “It has been pushed under the rug too long.”

BSO management said an outside investigation did not support Needleman’s allegations. And Carney’s attorney, Neil J. Ruther, called the complaint “pure, utter nonsense.”

In the complaint, filed Sept. 14, Needleman alleges that Carney retaliated against her for refusing to have sex with him in 2005 while the BSO was on tour in Spain, and then for reporting him to management.

The alleged proposition “was a matter that I found appalling and offensive,” Needleman said. “Mr. Carney was married to his first wife with three children at the time.”

Carney said “nothing ever occurred” between him and Needleman.

“There was no harassment, no retaliation, no hostile work environment,” Carney said.

But Needleman alleges in the complaint that Carney engaged in “daily hostility” and “physical intimidations and threats.” The complaint adds that she reported these developments to the orchestra several times.

BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome said that the orchestra was first informed of the allegation against Carney in December 2006. An investigation at that time by the BSO’s human resources department recommended no disciplinary action, he said.

When the allegations resurfaced in January 2018, BSO management launched an outside investigation led by Melissa Menkel McGuire from McGuire Moore Law. McGuire is chair of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association.

Menkel McGuire could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“The [2018] investigation went on for about eight months,” Kjome said. “The report said that there was no evidence about the allegation of inappropriate behavior that would warrant disciplinary action or termination. And there was no hostile work environment at the BSO. ”

Kjome added that McGuire’s report also determined that the BSO’s initial “handling of [Needleman’s] complaint in 2006 was appropriate.”

Needleman’s attorney Jessie Weber challenged that finding.

“The investigation was not conducted in the way we believe it should have been, allowing anonymity for witnesses...,” Weber said. “We also requested that Mr. Carney be put on leave while the investigation was going on, which other orchestras have done.”

Kjome said anonymity was discussed, but the investigator advised that “she could not in good faith guarantee complete anonymity because identities could be detected from the testimony.”

Kjome also cited union rules against hiding identities of accusers.

Needleman’s filing with the EEOC also describes alleged incidents of sexual advances Carney made on other female players, including two he followed into a restroom “demanding that they make out.”

Kjome said that the outside investigation addressed this allegation, too. The report, Kjome said, concluded that the hotel room and restroom incidents, “while unprofessional and distasteful ... are not sufficiently ‘severe or pervasive’ to create a hostile work environment.”

Needleman takes issue with that view.

“I believe there are other women who experienced worse than me,” she said. “The BSO [management] is doing everything they can to protect [Carney], and to discredit me. He’s such a big figure; a concertmaster is the de facto leader of the orchestra. If they dismissed him for sexual harassment, they would look bad.”

Needleman, who is responsible for giving the tuning note for the orchestra, and Carney are two of the most valued members of the ensemble. Both are tenured.

“The whole point of the #MeToo movement is that men who occupy positions of power over women should not extract sexual favors from them,” said Ruther, Carney’s attorney. “That did not happen here. Jon has no power over Miss Needleman whatsoever. There is nothing he could do to harm her career in any way. Jon is angry and absolutely shocked about the allegations.”

Needleman said in a statement she is seeking “nothing from my charge besides the restoration of a safe and professional working environment and a new level of respect and accountability from the management and board of the BSO.”

That Needleman is “not seeking money at this point speaks to her credibility,” Weber said. “She would just like to see the BSO remove Mr. Carney from the workplace. He has made life very difficult for her.”

Violinist Greg Mulligan, head of the BSO players’ committee, said that the orchestra is “no place for any sort of harassment, sexual or otherwise.” He declined to say more.

Anti-harassment training was done in May, Kjome said, and a reminder of BSO policies was sent to all musicians before the orchestra went on a tour to Scotland, England and Ireland last month — its first tour since 2005.

News of Needleman’s charge comes days after the BSO held its season-opening gala concert last Saturday. The first subscription program of the 2018-2019 season is scheduled this weekend, when Needleman and Carney are both scheduled to be in their usual places in the orchestra.

This has been a tumultuous period in the classical music world, where high-profile conductors have lost jobs due to allegations of sexual impropriety and, last weekend, two major ensembles took action against players.

The Cleveland Orchestra, which already had suspended its concertmaster last month after allegations of sexual assault, suspended a trombonist after a harassment investigation.

And the New York Philharmonic is seeking to fire its principal oboist and associate principal trumpeter due to what management terms “misconduct;” those firings are on hold at the request of the musicians’ union, pending more investigation.

Needleman’s filing with the EEOC will result in an official notice of the formal charge being sent to the BSO within 10 days. There is a process for the employer to answer the charges and the person filing the complaint to respond. Both parties may be asked to enter a mediation program.

The EEOC may decide to conduct an investigation, which could take about 10 months. If the investigation determines that the law has been violated, a voluntary settlement with the employer will be sought. If that is unsuccessful, the case may be pursued in court. If the commission decides no law has been violated, the person filing the complaint retains the right to sue in court.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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