Washington Ballet Settles With Union Over Firings

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By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005

Rather than proceed with a National Labor Relations Board hearing, the Washington Ballet has settled a discrimination complaint with the union representing its dancers, bringing to a close an episode that shone an unflattering light on the inner workings of the institution.

The American Guild of Musical Artists had alleged that Artistic Director Septime Webre had illegally dismissed two dancers in retaliation for their efforts enabling AGMA to represent the dancers. The ballet maintained that the two were let go for artistic reasons. One dancer, Brian Corman, was rehired after AGMA filed its complaint. The Post reported on the case last month.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, ballet and AGMA officials say. But according to the roster of dancers engaged for the current season, which the ballet provided to The Washington Post, Nikkia Parish, the other dancer in the case, has not been rehired.

"The decision not to re-engage a dancer is a difficult one for any ballet company, but it is a decision that must be made every season in virtually every ballet company in the world," Executive Director Jason Palmquist said in a statement. "The Washington Ballet's decision not to re-engage a dancer and the delayed decision to re-engage another were based on artistic reasons and solely on artistic reasons."

Asked if the settlement meant that the ballet was unsure of a victory before the labor board's administrative law judge, Palmquist said, "That would be an incorrect perception." Asked if Corman and Parish had been singled out, he said: "The ballet feels very specifically that we did absolutely nothing that would have been in any way retaliatory towards any dancers. . . . That would be an incorrect suggestion, that they were in any way targeted."

AGMA would not divulge what Parish, who has been bartending while awaiting the outcome of the case, has gained in the settlement. But, said Mid-Atlantic representative Eleni Kallas, "AGMA is very pleased with the settlement, and we hope it will enable this talented and courageous dancer to move on with her career."

For Parish, the settlement is bittersweet. "I'm glad that it's settled, I'm glad that it's over, because the whole process was very difficult for me," she said. "But that still doesn't take away from the fact that what they took, I can't get back. . . . I don't know if I'll be able to dance anymore because this may have ruined my reputation so far as being able to get another job with another company. I was just trying to make things better for the dancers. So I have very mixed feelings about it."

For the ballet, settling the case, Kallas said, gives it "the time it needs to prepare for the upcoming Dominican Republic tour, rather than spending its time in court." The company will travel to the Dominican Republic on Oct. 19-23.

In a statement, Webre said, "I am pleased that the dancers and I can now fully concentrate on making great art together."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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