Durham News

Two Carolina Theatre employees dismissed after filing grievances

Two Carolina Theatre employees who filed grievances with the board about the interim director, say they’ll appeal their dismissal from the nonprofit organization that runs the theater.

Michelle Irvine, chief operating officer, and Regina Mancha, a business manager, filed grievances complaining about interim CEO Dan Berman’s leadership style and contending he discriminated against women and created a hostile work environment.

The Carolina Theatre’s board hired an independent consultant to review the allegations, which included contact with every employee, board Chair Michael Schoenfeld wrote in an email.

The review found “no evidence whatsoever” of discrimination or a hostile work environment, he wrote.

“Dan Berman has led the Carolina Theatre out of a very difficult situation as an unpaid, volunteer interim CEO,” Schoenfeld wrote. “He has united the dedicated staff to develop a vision for serving the public with diverse programming and a renewed focus on education. ... We have complete confidence in Dan’s leadership and immense gratitude for the work he has done.”

Berman said the employees’ allegations are “completely false.”

“I think it is clear that the two employees were working in tandem on their grievances,” he said. “Most importantly it is very clear that the rest of the staff does not share their opinions.”

Businessman and philanthropist Berman replaced Bob Nocek, who resigned in January after it was disclosed that officials had discovered $1.2 million in unexpected debt. Nocek and then board Chairman Scott Harmon blamed the surprise debt on faulty accounting and on a finance employee who no longer worked there.

On Sept. 18, Irvine, who worked for the theater for about six years, sent a grievance letter to the board and City Council questioning the board’s oversight and Berman’s leadership. She was put on administrative leave the next day.

In Irvine’s Oct. 6 dismissal letter, Schoenfeld wrote Irvine’s dismissal had nothing to do with the grievance letter. Schoenfeld’s letter says Irvine’s documented conduct, which included insubordination, communication of confidential donor information and communication with volunteers about disagreements with her supervisor, resulted in her dismissal.

Mancha said she filed grievances on Sept. 20 and Sept. 22.

Mancha worked for the Carolina Theatre for about eight months as a rental coordinator until she resigned in May 2015 to move to California to care for her mother who had been diagnosed with cancer.

In May 2016, she interviewed to return to the Carolina Theatre in a position which she started on July 5. Mancha is a longtime friend of Irvine. The two worked together in the 1990s at the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento. Mancha moved to Durham with her mother, and they moved in with Irvine until they could save up enough and find their own place.

Mancha said her 90 day probationary employment period was extended by a few days, and she learned on Oct. 7 that she was fired. The letter stated she was dismissed because of her performance and her difficulty working with others, she said.

Both employees said they are appealing their dismissal to the executive board, which the theater’s policy allows.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges