Feb 8, 2022 - News

Dallas Arboretum faces discrimination claims

Flowers stretching forever
The Dallas Arboretum is one of the most beloved places in North Texas. Photo: Xinhua/Zhang Yongxing via Getty Images

A former employee of the Dallas Arboretum has filed complaints with both the EEOC and the City of Dallas, alleging workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why it matters: The city owns the 66-acre arboretum. The agreement that allows the non-profit Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society to operate the garden includes a non-discrimination clause that specifically mentions sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • The arboretum hosts more than 600,000 visitors a year, making it one of the most popular destinations in North Texas.

What's happening: The anonymous complainant, who identifies as a genderqueer lesbian, claims arboretum supervisors banned support staff from wearing pins with their preferred pronouns or including pronoun preferences in email signatures.

  • The complainant spent months creating educational programs, including highlighting Dia de Los Muertos and Arab-American Heritage month, only to see those programs canceled, according to the Dallas Voice, which first reported the allegations in January.
  • The former employee was allegedly told that LGBTQ-inclusive programming and pronoun explanations upset arboretum donors.
  • Attorney Shelly Skeen, who represents the former employee, tells Axios that her client's goal is to “make sure that the visitors at the Dallas Arboretum see themselves represented, that the programming at the arboretum is more inclusive and diverse and also that the work environment is open and accepting of people for who they are.”

What they're saying: “I received so much grateful feedback from non-binary staff who were relieved to finally be in a workplace that respected their identity,” the complainant wrote in an article posted on the Lambda Legal website. “Not only that, but I saw cisgender staff learning and becoming advocates for their genderqueer colleagues.”

The other side: Representatives of the arboretum didn't respond to requests for comment, but Terry Lendecker, the Dallas Arboretum's vice president of public relations, image and branding, told KERA the organization doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

  • Last month, Dallas Parks and Recreation Department Director John Jenkins sent a letter to Mary Brinegar, the arboretum's president and chief executive officer, saying that the city “takes these matters seriously.”

By the numbers: This year the city of Dallas contributed $374,393 to the maintenance and operation of the Arboretum.

  • Next year the city is planning to increase that amount to $424,393.
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