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Marciano Foundation worker files suit claiming mass layoffs were illegal
The Marciano Art Foundation, a private museum in Los Angeles, May 10, 2017. Lawyers representing one of 70 workers laid off in November filed suit on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, accusing the foundation of breaking a state law that requires notice before mass layoffs and seeking class-action status in pursuit of back pay and other damages for former employees. Emily Berl/The New York Times.

by Colin Moynihan

LOS ANGELES (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- A dispute over the dismissal of dozens of workers from the Marciano Art Foundation widened Monday as lawyers representing a former employee accused the organization of breaking a state law that requires notice before mass layoffs.

About 70 people working at the foundation, a private, nonprofit museum in Los Angeles, were laid off in November, days after taking steps to form a union. At the same time, the foundation, which was created by two brothers who co-founded the Guess clothing empire, told those employees in an email that it would close its current exhibition early, citing “low attendance the past few weeks.”

Lawyers representing one of the laid-off workers, Kenneth Moffitt, filed a suit that they said was accepted Monday by the California Superior Court in Los Angeles. That complaint asserted that the foundation and the brothers, Paul and Maurice Marciano, had violated a law that requires certain employers to provide employees and government officials at least 60 days written notice before ordering a mass layoff, relocation or cessation of operations.

The suit asked to be certified as a class action and for the former employees to be awarded damages of at least 60 days back pay and the value of lost benefits. It also asked for an injunction forbidding the defendants from engaging in unlawful practices.

“The law is the surest way we have to hold the Marcianos accountable,” Moffitt said by telephone.

Richard Rosenberg, a lawyer who was listed on the National Labor Relations Board website as representing the foundation in a matter involving that agency, said by email that the foundation and its owners knew of Moffitt’s filing.

“They are aware of the new lawsuit and believe that there is no merit whatsoever to the underlying California WARN Act claim,” Rosenberg wrote, referring to the law requiring notice before certain layoffs. He added: “They will respond to the claim appropriately when the time comes.”

The foundation, which has said it had a collection of more than 1,500 works by artists including David Hammons, Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst, opened in 2017 in a 90,000-square-foot former Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard.

The unionization attempt was seen as part of a recent wave of similar efforts at institutions including the New Museum and the Guggenheim in New York, and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.

After the dismissals in November, union organizers said the layoffs were retaliatory and asked the National Labor Relations Board to order the reinstatement of the former employees.

In December, the foundation announced that it was permanently closed, adding that its “only goal was to give back to Greater Los Angeles by fostering an appreciation of the arts accessible to everyone and free to the public.” Around the same time, its website was shut down.

The Marciano brothers have been listed in numerous tax filings as the foundation’s sole directors. Daniel B. Rojas, one of the lawyers filing the suit on behalf of Moffitt, said it appeared likely that the brothers had made the decision to dismiss the employees.

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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