Senior staffer settles retaliation lawsuit with IMA

November 27, 2010

A longtime senior manager at the Indianapolis Museum of Art has retired—the result of a settlement in a retaliation lawsuit she filed earlier this month.

Sue Ellen Paxson, deputy director of collections and programs, had filed an internal complaint against Chief Operating Officer Nick Cameron, who carried a gun to work and, Paxson alleged, exposing it around his colleagues.

Anderson Anderson

The IMA said it found no wrongdoing by Cameron.

In the lawsuit she filed in Marion Superior Court, Paxson said that shortly after her July complaint, CEO Maxwell Anderson ignored her suggestions, left her out of meetings, criticized departments in her purview, cited her for poor performance, denied raises to her subordinates who’d also been involved in the complaint, and denied Paxson vacation time.

Paxson, who had worked at the museum since 1982, retired just before Thanksgiving, spokeswoman Katie Zarich said.

The museum released the following statement: “Despite their differences, the parties have amicably resolved any dispute and Ms. Paxson has decided to retire from the IMA.

“The board of governors and the staff of the IMA thank Ms. Paxson for her years of service and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Cameron no longer carries a gun, but Zarich said that’s not the result of the incidents Paxson complained about, nor the resulting investigation.

Zarich said Cameron carried a gun while the director of security’s job was vacant but no longer needed it after hiring the current director, Martin Whitfield.

“Previous security personnel at the museum have carried guns,” Zarich said. “Security reported to [Cameron]. He was responsible and remains responsible for the security function.”

Paxson was a key employee, earning $189,479 in salary and benefits, according to the IMA’s most recent tax return for the year ended June 30, 2009.

Cameron had worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 30 years before he came to the IMA in January.

According to Paxson’s lawsuit, she and other employees were uncomfortable about the way he handled his gun last spring, but they didn’t complain because, until September, he oversaw the human resources department.

At one point, Paxson alleged, Cameron carried his gun into her office, “emptied the ammunition on her desk, handed the gun to Paxson, and then realized he left a bullet in the chamber.”

The incident is one of four that Paxson outlined in an internal whistleblower complaint and repeated in her lawsuit. Paxson’s lawsuit also named Cameron and alleged “assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Paxson did not allege a specific incident of assault, but said Cameron “intentionally created a reasonable apprehension of fear for immediate harmful or offensive contact.”

Her attorney, John Haskin, would not comment.

The IMA’s board adopted a whistleblower policy on June 24, according to Paxson’s suit. Five days later, Paxson received phone calls from board member Kathleen Postlethwait and former board member Wayne Zink.

According to the lawsuit, Postlethwait and Zink also were concerned about Cameron’s gun-toting habits. Neither could be reached for comment.

The same day, the head of the board’s whistleblower committee, Thomas Hiatt, informed Paxson his committee would be the place to route her complaint.

The complaint she drafted on July 5 outlined a series of incidents she believed violated the museum’s policy about employees carrying guns to work, as well as state law about carrying a gun on property used for school functions. She alleged Cameron had:

• Pressured a museum employee, Rachel Huizinga, to hold his gun while on duty.

• Dropped his ammunition clip onto the floor in “a public gathering area” of the museum.

• Threatened to “blow the head off” a director from another museum who’d made a critical comment about Anderson during a visit. The subject of the threat was Michael Conforti, director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamsburg, Mass.

It’s not clear from the lawsuit whether Conforti was present when Cameron made the alleged remark, and he did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The museum “adamantly” denied those allegations in its prepared statement. The IMA said a committee of board members and “independent human resources representatives” investigated and “found no violation.”•


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