The director of UA Presents abruptly resigned last week and is readying a federal lawsuit against the University of Arizona, citing a culture of racism, discrimination and inequitable compensation.
Candace Feldman was hired as director of programming for UA Presents in February 2016, reporting directly to the dean of the College of Fine Arts, according to a letter Feldman sent to University of Arizona President Robert Robbins on Aug. 10.
“My experience, although my own, is not unique in its nature nor am I alone in the discriminatory inequities that exist as a woman of color employed by the University of Arizona,” Feldman said in the letter, adding that other people from different departments and colleges within the UA have also shared experiences of “egregious discriminatory actions.”
In May, Feldman filed three discrimination charges against the UA with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Division and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On July 31, the EEOC issued Feldman a “right to sue” notice under the Equal Pay Act. Her request was forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice, which will pursue the Title VII claim on Feldman’s behalf, according to the notice.
It would be a conflict of interest for the Arizona AG’s office to prosecute the case against the UA, since both are state agencies, so the lawsuit will have to play out in federal court.
“One can only conclude that these practices are ingrained in the culture of this institution and supported by the university administration you inherited,” Feldman’s letter to Robbins says.
UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said the university is reviewing the allegations and is confident in its processes for addressing Feldman’s concerns.
“We take these allegations very seriously and the University has a number of trained staff, reporting venues and pathways for resolving concerns employees have about their employment. That includes keeping those processes confidential, which is in the best interest of the people affected,” Sigurdson told the Star in an email.
Feldman came to the UA with more than a decade of experience, producing and presenting in New York and Los Angeles.
When she was hired by the UA, she was offered a starting salary of $50,000 — $35,000 less than any previous programming director for UA Presents, including her two white predecessors, according to Feldman.
Feldman was able to negotiate her salary up to $60,000, with UA officials telling her there was a salary freeze. Feldman was later told by the UA’s human resources department that there was no salary freeze, she said.
After multiple attempts by Feldman to increase her salary to parity with previous directors, she was ultimately unsuccessful, her letter said.
In addition to the pay issues, Feldman says she was subjected to racist and bigoted comments by executive-level employees related to her programming choices and personal appearance, she said in the letter.
“To be a black woman in a leadership capacity at the university has not only been riddled with blatant racist comments and discriminatory practices, but the day-to-day microaggressions are truly at the root of race-based trauma at the UA,” Feldman said in the letter.
Despite comments from coworkers, including “black people don’t come to shows” and “black people don’t buy tickets,” during Feldman’s first year on the job, UA Presents expanded the diversity in its programming and grew partnerships, developed new audiences and brought in ticket buys from zip codes that have never bought tickets before, according to the letter.
The letter details multiple racist comments referencing her appearance and ethnicity and inappropriate behaviors she was subjected to, such as coworkers calling out-of-state grant makers to check on Feldman’s communication and productivity and having several people serve as her direct supervisor, despite the fact that her contract says she answers directly to the dean.
When Feldman brought her concerns to human resources, her complaint was shared with the subjects in less than 24 hours, leaving her feeling “vulnerable and unsafe,” according to the letter.
Feldman also brought her complaints to the UA’s Office of Institutional Equity. After interviewing Feldman and no other witnesses, the OIE investigator said the complaint failed to amount to a violation of the school’s anti-discrimination policy, according to Feldman’s discrimination charge filed with the EEOC.
Although the investigator told Feldman she could file a formal complaint, he “hinted” that the complaint wouldn’t warrant a full investigation, the charge document says.
After a year at the UA, Feldman began suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, she said in the letter.
“Other current and former faculty, staff and students have been subjected to similar environments across your campus, but the systems in place to ‘protect’ employees ... truly only protect the aggressor, the individual in the leadership or administrative position,” Feldman said.
Under Feldman’s leadership, UA Presents increased its revenue from $706,000 to $922,000 after her first year. As of May 16, UA Presents had generated approximately $1.5 million in revenue.
“I don’t want my situation to paint a picture that everyone at the university engages in behaviors like these,” Feldman told the Star Friday. “There have definitely been allies, and kind, compassionate colleagues.”
Feldman went on to say that there were systemic issues in UA’s leadership, including in human resources and the Office of Institutional Equity.
“I encourage anybody ... if they have been through this, they are not alone. There’s hope for change,” Feldman said. “It starts with our voice, we have to be courageous enough to say what’s wrong is wrong.”
Feldman’s goal in filing the EEOC complaint is to encourage the university to change its ways, saying that allowing this type of racial trauma to continue is bad for the UA, students, the community and humanity.
“In this day and age, it should be crystal clear that this is wrong,” Feldman said.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt