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Katherine Needleman, principal oboe player with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has accused concertmaster Jonathan Carney of sexual harassment. He denies the allegation.
Katherine Needleman, principal oboe player with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has accused concertmaster Jonathan Carney of sexual harassment. He denies the allegation. (Vanessa Briceno)

When the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s principal oboist alleged last fall that she had been sexually harassed by the concertmaster it caused an uproar. But the controversy was almost immediately superseded by a bitter labor dispute that culminated in a 14-week work stoppage.

Nonetheless, the complaint in front of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hasn’t gone away, but is progressing slowly through the system, according to attorneys representing the parties. In the interim, principal oboist Katherine Needleman and concertmaster Jonathan Carney continue to rehearse and perform together.

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“The matter is ongoing and that’s all I can really say,” said Needleman’s lawyer, Jessica P. Weber. “It’s been a little over a year since we filed our complaint and unfortunately it can take a long time for these things to be resolved.”

In 2018, it took on average a bit more than nine months — 280 days — to resolve complaints made in the private sector, according to a spokeswoman for the EEOC.

Technically, the dispute pits Needleman against not Carney, but the musicians’ employer, the BSO. The complaint alleges that Carney retaliated against Needleman after she rejected his request for sex in 2005 and that the symphony created a hostile work environment by allowing the situation to continue.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Carney referred to Needleman’s “pezones” — the Spanish word for “nipples” — in front of a BSO staff member in January of 2006.

Carney has denied the allegations. Stephen Shawe, the BSO’s attorney, said that the organization hired an outside lawyer to conduct an independent investigation after the harassment charges resurfaced last winter. After an eight-month investigation, the attorney concluded that the BSO had not created a hostile work environment and wasn’t required to discipline or fire Carney.

Nonetheless, the BSO suspended the concertmaster last fall after learning of another incident involving what BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome described as “inappropriate behavior” towards a musician for the Mid-Atlantic Symphony.

As the parties await the EEOC’s determination, any lingering tensions between Needleman and Carney haven’t spilled into the workplace, according to Carney’s attorney, Neil J. Ruther.

“These are all highly professional musicians,” Ruther said. “When they walk across the stage to rehearse or perform, they are very focused. There has not been a cross word between them.”

Needleman, Carney and Kjome all declined to comment for this article.

According to statistics provided by the EEOC, in the vast majority of cases the Commission rules on the side of the employer.

In 2018, the Commission found that there was “reasonable cause” to find that discrimination had occurred in 3.5 percent of the total 90,558 complaints filed. The spokeswoman said that an additional 11.7 percent of the cases had favorable outcomes for the complainant, or contained allegations that the EEOC deemed to have merit even if they fell short of violating federal law.

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