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Allegheny

Mattress Factory taps Westmoreland arts leader to helm Pittsburgh museum

Natasha Lindstrom
| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
The Mattress Factory, founded in 1977, is a contemporary art museum and experimental artist lab that draws art lovers its cluster of buildings, gift shop and cafe in the Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh’s North Side.
The Mattress Factory, founded in 1977, is a contemporary art museum and experimental artist lab that draws art lovers its cluster of buildings, gift shop and cafe in the Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Judith O’Toole, former CEO of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, has been tapped to serve as acting director of the Mattress Factory contemporary art museum amid an investigation into sexual harassment claims at the popular tourist destination in Pittsburgh, officials announced Wednesday.

The Mattress Factory placed its executive director, Michael Olijnyk, on leave last month after four current and former employees filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging labor law violations stemming from the museum’s response to reports of sexual harassment.

“The NLRB is reviewing how museum management interacted with the employees, who complained about the way their allegations of sexual harassment were handled,” the museum’s board said Wednesday in a statement. “The Mattress Factory Board is also investigating the complaints of retaliation by management and will cooperate with the NLRB investigation.”

Four current and former employees, all women, filed a “charge against employer” with the NLRB. They alleged the Mattress Factory violated federal labor law by discriminating against employees who engaged in “protected concerted activity for mutual aid or protection,” documents show.

The women who lodged the complaint claim they were confronted with hostility, intimidation and threats of losing their jobs after voicing concerns about the museum’s response to multiple reports of sexual harassment and assaults allegedly inflicted by a co-worker. Their attorney, Megan Block, said she and her clients also are exploring all other legal options, such as a potential federal civil rights lawsuit.

O’Toole, who will take the helm of the museum’s day-to-day operations immediately, retired this summer from her role as Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, where her tenure lasted 25 years.

The Mattress Factory’s board also is hiring arts consultant Mary Navarro, who most recently served as interim manager for Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, to report directly to O’Toole as a special adviser to the museum.

“Judy and Mary have spectacular experience and reputations in the arts community far and wide,” Mattress Factory board Chairman Michael White said in a statement. “We are delighted they have agreed to work with us at this important time.”

Navarro previously worked with O’Toole doing consulting work while the Westmoreland Museum planned a major expansion.

“They’re a tremendous team, and we look forward to working with them.”

Both positions — described as temporary assignments — take effect immediately.

In a statement, O’Toole said she has long viewed the Mattress Factory “to be a vital part of the Pittsburgh cultural scene and a unique, artist-oriented institution on the international stage.”

Founded in 1977, the Mattress Factory is a contemporary art museum and experimental artist lab that drew more than 104,000 visitors last year to its cluster of buildings, gift shop and cafe in the Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh’s North Side.

The nonprofit employs about 50 people and has a $1.95 million annual budget.

“It’s an exceptional asset, and I’m eager to help further the museum’s mission,” O’Toole said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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