Art News

Meow Wolf Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Resolved in Silence

Kyle Harris
Meow Wolf's arrival in Denver has been marked by legal troubles.
Denver artist Mar Williams's 2019 gender discrimination lawsuit against Meow Wolf in Santa Fe District Court has been settled.

Meow Wolf is the Santa Fe-based arts and entertainment company that started as a DIY arts collective over a decade ago and has turned into a massive corporation with projects in multiple states, including a Denver facility slated to launch in 2021. But late last year, the company was hit by lawsuits from former and current employees in both Santa Fe and Denver.

Williams's only comment on the end of the case: "It's resolved."

A spokesperson for Meow Wolf was even less revealing: "We are unable to provide a comment at this time."

Williams was a Meow Wolf employee when they filed the suit; a source at Meow Wolf confirms that Williams is no longer working with the company. The terms of the settlement are private.

Meow Wolf's Denver Director of Community Outreach, Zoë Williams (no relation to Mar Williams), also filed suit in Santa Fe District Court, claiming that the company was engaged in various forms of gender discrimination and harassment. Zoë Williams has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the state of this case.

In an extensive interview with Westword when the lawsuit was first announced, Mar Williams, who identifies as non-binary, had plenty to say about Meow Wolf.  "From the start, I had issues with Meow Wolf coming to Denver, their practices, and how they were engaging with the art community," the artist said. "I think initially I got hired, at least in part, so I'd shut up about it. Working for them, I was told my opinion was valued, but when I actually spoke up, I'd be ignored and walled off from other people in the company. I felt very much like I was just there as a token. It was incredibly frustrating, but it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, and why, in the vacuum they created."

In a December 2019 statement, Zoë and Mar's legal team described their grievances with the company:

The current and former employees paint a picture where women and non-binary people who speak up face harassment, surveillance, isolation, and pressure to resign, or are fired outright, while men are prioritized for leadership, raises, and promotions. According to their suit, despite claims to support a healthy work environment, Meow Wolf fails to protect women, transgender, and non-binary employees from discrimination. Meanwhile, the company actively discourages employees from collective bargaining or elevating equity issues. When the group of current and former employees approached the Human Resources Department for support, they describe being isolated and pressured to quit. 
Meow Wolf issued its own statement at the time:
We are disappointed by these baseless allegations, which run completely counter to our culture, and we will strongly defend against them through the legal process.

For the record, Zoe Williams and Mar Williams are both still employees of Meow Wolf. They were neither targeted or wrongfully terminated and this is an example of the falsehoods that are propagated in this claim, which is riddled with false accusations.

Meow Wolf is firmly committed to fair employment practices, equitable pay and supportive treatment of all employees. Beyond the letter of our strict formal policies prohibiting discrimination of any type, we have recognized the need to proactively address the potential for gender bias in society at large and, as such, have invited an open, forward-looking, productive – and ongoing – internal dialogue designed to continue to ensure our workplace is positive, respectful and safe and our workforce is informed and engaged.
The past year has seen plenty of change for Meow Wolf. Longtime CEO and co-founder Vince Kadlubek, who was named in the lawsuits, stepped down from his post and was replaced by three people: Chief Creative Officer Ali Rubinstein, Chief Financial Officer Carl Christensen, and Chief of Content Jim Ward. Rubinstein came from Walt Disney Imagineering; Christensen had previously worked at Goldman Sachs, and the Color Run race series; and Ward headed up LucasArts and worked as senior vice president of Lucasfilm, according to Albuquerque Business First.

Meow Wolf's secrecy extends beyond the settlement of the Mar Williams suit. Staffers say they have had to sign nondisclosure agreements with the company. The Denver building rising at I-25 and the Colfax viaduct is off limits to the press. The company has also declined to comment on the tags that recently appeared on the structure, and on the signs that went up in response, reminding people that they were on camera. Those warnings have since been removed.

When Mar Williams took Meow Wolf to court, the artist's hope was that the case would spark change in the organization and conversation among Denver's cultural community.

"I do have some hope that Meow Wolf does something to actually address the problems instead of just paying lip service," Williams said when the lawsuit was announced. "Knowing what's going on means Denver artists are going to be better equipped to stand up to them and get better treatment."