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At Mazzoni Center, it’s been one controversy after another

Staff walkouts, leadership shakeups, and sexual misconduct scandals have plagued Philly's largest LGBT health-care provider.

The Mazzoni Center, in the 1300 block of Bainbridge Street, was also rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017.
The Mazzoni Center, in the 1300 block of Bainbridge Street, was also rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017. Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

The Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia's largest LGBT health-care provider, seems to be in a constant state of turmoil.

The same problems keep surfacing: employees of color feeling mistreated by upper management, a disconnect between the CEO and staff, sexual-misconduct accusations against high-ranking officials.

We break down the controversies from the last two years, starting with the most recent:

August/September 2018: City’s LGBT Affairs Office says it is ‘deeply troubled’ by events at Mazzoni; employees sign petition

Philadelphia's LGBT Affairs Office calls out Mazzoni's leadership and says the city's Commission on Human Relations, which investigates discrimination in employment and other areas, is looking into the recent firing of Mazzoni's diversity director.

"We are dismayed to receive continued reports from staff regarding allegations of discrimination within the agency," the LGBT Affairs Office says in a statement. "While Mazzoni Center has employee personnel policies which address harassment, inclusion, retaliation, and work rules, these policies appear to be enforced selectively, if at all. The potential for this kind of inconsistency leaves employees vulnerable to a culture of discrimination and retaliation.

"We are concerned for the well-being of Mazzoni Center staff and how any mistreatment may affect the care of patients and clients," the LGBT Affairs Office adds.

Eighty-two employees sign a petition saying they lack confidence in Mazzoni's CEO, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino. The petition demands that the center's board of directors "force resignations where just cause exists" and also reinstate the diversity director.

The allegations of racial hostility at Mazzoni echo what the city found a year earlier, when it ordered the center to undergo anti-bias training after concluding employees were vulnerable to discriminatory practices.

August 2018: Dozens of staffers walk out to protest firing of diversity director

The firing of Kay Martinez, a queer transgender person of color who was hired to address disparities in staffers' compensation and advancement opportunities, upsets many employees, causing nearly 50 to walk out of work.

Martinez was the center's first diversity director, and employees had created the job description in hopes it would force Mazzoni to address pay inequities and better support staffers of color.

>> READ MORE: Philadelphia's start-up community launches data survey to address its diversity shortcomings

Martinez says Mazzoni's CEO, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino, is trying to silence them. Some staffers speak out and say Gonzalez Sciarrino doesn't belong at Mazzoni.

They also say Gonzalez Sciarrino offered little support when three staffers of color, including Martinez, were assaulted by protesters in early August outside the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, an event that Mazzoni runs. Martinez recalls being hit in the face and says the two others were maced.

May 2018: Mazzoni’s former interim CEO is accused of ‘deeply disturbing’ sexual harassment

The allegations against Stephen Glassman come up at the Philadelphia LGBTQ State of the Union during a question-and-answer session with Glassman's successor, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino.

Questions for Gonzalez Sciarrino are written anonymously on index cards and read by two moderators. One of the first questions asks how Gonzalez Sciarrino is responding to allegations that Glassman sexually harassed 10 employees.

Gonzalez Sciarrino initially confuses Glassman with Mazzoni's former medical director, Robert Winn, who resigned in 2017 amid his own sexual-misconduct allegations. Upon being corrected, Gonzalez Sciarrino says this is the first she has heard of the accusations against Glassman. In a statement the following day, she calls them "deeply disturbing."

Glassman calls the allegations "entirely false," and a third party is hired to investigate. Details about the alleged harassment — such as the nature of it, who may have been victimized, and during what time period — are not disclosed.

March 2018: Mazzoni’s hiring of new CEO, a straight woman from Florida, lacks transparency

Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino faces calls to resign soon after being hired.

Some former and current employees ask why a straight woman — with few ties to Philadelphia — has been selected to lead an LGBT organization here. Mazzoni's board of directors, which made the hiring decision, pushes back in a blunt statement: "We are disappointed members of the community — our community — chose to judge Lydia without first meeting her, based on their perceptions of her race, gender identity and orientation, and not her qualifications."

The board says Gonzalez Sciarrino led a health clinic in Florida that mostly served LGBT patients.

But the hiring process is quickly scrutinized.

Mazzoni won't disclose the number of candidates interviewed or say how many people of color were considered, citing a nondisclosure agreement it signed with a search firm. A committee of Mazzoni staffers and LGBT community leaders is also supposed to meet final candidates and offer input, but that never happens. The center says some candidates requested confidentiality, making it impossible to meet staff.

The executive director of the Philadelphia Office of  LGBT Affairs, Amber Hikes, who was on the committee, says: "There could have been more community and staff involvement in a decision of this magnitude, especially considering Mazzoni's significant recent challenges."

September 2017: Interim CEO fights staffers’ attempts to unionize — and hires antiunion consultant with extremist ties

Mazzoni's interim CEO, Stephen Glassman, brings in aggressive antiunion consultants to stymie an organizing effort by employees trying to unionize. One of the consultants has ties to a right-wing hate group, as Philadelphia Weekly reports. Glassman says he did not properly vet that consultant and terminates the contract.

A letter signed by seven members of City Council urges Glassman and Mazzoni leadership not to obstruct the unionizing effort. "Bringing in outsiders notorious for harsh, anti-union tactics is not only a concerning use of the nonprofit's resources, but it risks doing untold damage to the very trust that must be rebuilt if Mazzoni is to flourish," the letter says.

The staff votes to unionize.

April 2017: Mazzoni’s longtime CEO resigns amid backlash over response to sexual-misconduct allegations

Nurit Shein, who has led the center since 1995, is accused in 2017 of failing to address earlier sexual-misconduct allegations against former medical director Robert Winn. A former board member tells Philadelphia Weekly that Winn was accused at least four years earlier of having sexual relationships with patients and that Shein didn't take the allegations seriously, because they were made anonymously.

Mazzoni staff members walk out and call for Shein to resign.

Mazzoni's board of directors initially defends Shein but asks for her resignation days later. She resigns. Several board members do as well.

The allegations against Winn aren't the only problem. Employees of color also say Shein fostered an environment of racial hostility. Black employees describe being singled out for disciplinary action and facing retaliation for filing complaints. The city finds Mazzoni's employees are vulnerable to discriminatory practices and orders the nonprofit to undergo antibias training.