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Two men accuse Straz Center of sex discrimination

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Two former employees are suing the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center claiming they are victims of sex bias and lost their jobs because they are not women.

Paul Bilyeu, senior director of communications for the Straz, said the organization is aware of the suit. He declined further comment except to say, “We are confident that those claims are without merit.”

The suits were filed Monday by Brad Casey and Brian Frey. Casey was hired in February 2014 to serve as managing director of the Patel Conservatory. Frey was hired to work under Casey as producing director. The Patel Conservatory is part of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and provides instruction and puts on performances for dance, theater and music students. The Straz Center is a subsidiary of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Casey says in his suit that he was promoted from managing director to temporary vice president of Patel to replace a woman who had been terminated. He alleges that he was told he would be named the new vice president of education at the beginning of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1.

As managing director and temporary vice president, Casey said he took on oversight of Patel, including staffing, budgeting and programming. According to the lawsuit, Casey’s tenure could “only be described as a complete and rousing success.”

The Patel grew in size and quality under his leadership, according to the lawsuit. He also reduced turnover and “led his team to achieve new standards of artistic excellence in the classroom and on stage, and let his team to not only meet but exceed financial goals.”

Casey and his team, which included Frey, achieved “more success during their 18 months of leadership than it had seen in the previous 10 years under the previous leadership.”

While employed, Casey said he never received notice that he was performing poorly. Casey was terminated by CFO Mary Beth Rossi on Aug. 10. Frey was also “inexplicably terminated,” the suit says.

“Casey was replaced by … a woman with less experience who is less qualified for the position,” the suit says.

It adds, “The majority of leadership positions at the Straz are filled by women including five out of six executive leadership positions. … The reason the Straz fired Mr. Casey was because the management wanted to return to an arts education program directed by women.”

Frey’s allegations are similar. Frey says he was “an outstanding producing director and employee” who “never had any indication that his employment was in jeopardy. When he questioned the reason for his termination, Ms. Rossi simply stated, ‘We are going in a different direction.’”

Frey said his job is now being done, in part, by the woman who was hired to replace Casey. That woman, he says, is less experienced and less qualified than he is.

Both are asking the court for back pay. It’s unclear what Casey was making. Frey said he was being paid $72,000 a year.

They’re also asking for damages for mental anguish, loss of dignity and other intangible damages.

Frey, Casey, nor Rossi could be reached for comment.

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