Saskatoon

Remai Modern CEO under investigation by human rights commission for alleged workplace harassment

Burke is accused of workplace harassment by a woman he worked with at the museum's previous incarnation, Mendel Art Gallery.

Complaint filed by former female co-worker at Mendel Art Gallery

Gregory Burke, the CEO and executive director of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum, is facing an allegation of workplace harassment from a woman he worked with at the museum's previous incarnation, Mendel Art Gallery. Burke announced his upcoming March 15 exit from the museum back in December. (Remai Modern)

Gregory Burke, the outgoing CEO and executive director of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum, is under investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for alleged workplace harassment dating back to his time at the Mendel Art Gallery. 

According to a document obtained by CBC News, the complaint was filed with the commission by a woman who worked with Burke at the Mendel, now known as Remai Modern.

CBC News is not identifying the woman, whose allegation has not been proven in court. Her lawyer also confirmed the complaint.  

Burke did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The commission document obtained by CBC News does not detail the specifics of the allegation. The corporate entities for both Mendel Art Gallery and Remai Modern are named alongside Burke as respondents.

"My aim investigating this complaint is to determine the facts and gather relevant perspectives on the situation," wrote commission investigator Lewanna Dubray in the document.

Dubray said she is seeking information from the complainant, Burke and "all potential witnesses."

The commission would neither confirm nor deny the complaint or investigation.  

"The commission is an unbiased organization," the commission said in a statement to CBC News. "As a matter of general principle, and because of privacy concerns, the commission does not discuss or disclose the particulars of ongoing complaints."

Resigned last December

Burke took the helm of the Mendel Art Gallery in 2013, when the gallery was planning its transition into the Remai Modern Art Museum. Burke previously ran Toronto's Power Plant Art Gallery and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand.

Remai Modern opened in October 2017, two years behind schedule. It drew a larger-than-anticipated number of first-year visitors. Revenue from admissions and memberships beat targets set out in the business plan overseen by Burke.

Burke announced his resignation last December. His last day at Remai Modern is March 15.

"It's a very difficult decision and I really am overwhelmed and humbled by the hundreds of thousands of visitors that we've received, particularly from the Saskatoon community, and the support we've received," he said at the time of his resignation.

"I feel very emotional at this point to be thinking that I'll be leaving such a fantastic group of people and supporters, from Mrs. Remai, the city council, all of our 9,000 members, our board particularly. It's been an absolute career highlight for me."

Burke recently called the October 2017 opening of Remai Modern, seen here, "an absolute career highlight." (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Burke said he was leaving to accept a new job at the Auckland Art Gallery in his home country of New Zealand.

Chris Brooks, Auckland Art Gallery's acting director, said in a statement to CBC News Wednesday that "the team [here] is aware of a reported investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. However, out of consideration for privacy and any due process that may follow, [we] will not — as in all cases of this type — be making any further statement."

Burke said "I have a lot of support there to go back and I feel that I was probably ready to move on about a year or so or a year or two anyway," he said.

CBC News learned of the harassment allegation weeks before it obtained an email showing that both a city ombudsperson and a hired coaching firm have written reports about the museum workplace.

Next steps, and the search for a new CEO

Commission investigations happen when prior attempts at mediation or settlement do not resolve the complaint. An investigator gathers statements from potential witnesses, as well as information from the complainant and the respondents.

"The investigator then refers the case to the chief commissioner, who decides whether the case should be [further] mediated, dismissed, sent to a hearing or dealt with in another way," according to the commission's website.

The search for Burke's replacement is on, according to Remai Modern.

"The board recognizes the importance of having new permanent leadership in place as soon as possible but also that finding the best possible candidate will take time.

"We are anticipating an update from the board in the coming weeks."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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