Mazzoni Center Fires Diversity and Inclusion Director, Prompting Staff Protest

Kay Martinez, the nonprofit’s first-ever first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, was fired on Monday morning following recent staff turmoil involving the center’s CEO.

Mazzoni staff members walk out on Monday, August 20th. | Credit: Mazzoni Staffer

This is a developing story and may be updated at any time.

More than 50 staff members walked out of Mazzoni Center’s headquarters on Monday morning following the firing of Kay Martinez, the HIV/AIDS nonprofit’s first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Martinez, who uses they/them pronouns, worked for the organization for fewer than four months.

“The CEO [Lydia Gonzales Sciarrino] fired me this morning without any clear examples as to why [I was being terminated],” Martinez told Philadelphia magazine. “I never received any behavior warnings or writeups from the organization prior to this abrupt termination.”

The termination is the latest incident in a series of controversies at the local LGBTQ wellness nonprofit involving its new CEO, who herself joined the organization less than five months ago. Asked for comment, a Mazzoni spokesperson told Philadelphia magazine that “Mazzoni Center does not comment on employee matters.”

Philadelphia obtained the termination letter that was given to Martinez from Sciarrino, in which the CEO wrote to Martinez: “It is apparent you do not agree with how management has decided to effectively accomplish the mission of Mazzoni Center and your conduct has not been professional and inconsistent [sic] with the role you fulfill within the organization.”

It is not clear whether Martinez’s firing is related to a “call for solidarity” attributed to them in an item published in a newsletter for Mazzoni’s unionized workers on Friday morning. The item invited staff members to walk out at noon on Friday to protest how a management-led staff meeting had been conducted the day before, at which Nefertari Sloan, a senior health and sexuality educator who has worked for the organization since 2016, allegedly had her microphone turned off when she attempted to withdraw past support of current management. Around 30 staff members participated in the Friday walkout.

According to an open letter written by Sloan that was sent to Mazzoni’s board of directors on Sunday, Sloan identified herself as a “whistleblower” and claimed “Lydia told someone to cut off my microphone” during the Thursday staff meeting, attended by more than 100 employees. Sloan told Philadelphia magazine that she kept talking as Sciarrino “told staffers to disperse.” She also stated in the letter that “the CEO is not upholding the mission of Mazzoni Center with any particular grace.”

“Most of the staffers stayed put as she abruptly tried to silence my opportunity to tell the organization that I don’t feel we are being prioritized,” Sloan said of the meeting, which was centered around discussion pertaining to a vendor and healthcare benefits. “I had the mic, it was my time to talk, and she basically silenced me because I had a public grievance. She canceled the entire staff meeting because of it. The staff and myself felt the retaliation right away.”

Several Mazzoni staffers who were present at the Thursday meeting but asked not to be named confirmed Sloan’s account to Philadelphia. Neither Gonzalez nor Christopher Pope, the president of Mazzoni’s board, responded to multiple requests for comment about the meeting.

This is not the first time Mazzoni staff members have staged a walkout over dissatisfaction with the organization’s CEO. In April 2017, a staff walkout and petition was signed by more than 60 full-time staffers calling for Mazzoni’s then-CEO Nurit Shein to resign after the ousting of former medical director Dr. Robert Winn following news that he was the subject of an investigation.

Philadelphia magazine obtained two emails sent from Mazzoni following the incident that Sloan and several staff members claim was in direct retaliation for the incident at Thursday’s staff meeting.

On Friday morning, Sciarrino sent the following email to Sloan criticizing her behavior:

I am terribly disappointed in your conduct and behavior at yesterday’s staff meeting. Staff meetings are not for the purpose of advocating your agenda. Mazzoni Center had invited a vendor to discuss the health insurance benefits to be offered at renewal time, something many of our team members were interested in hearing about. Your persistence in continuing to disrupt the meeting after you were asked to stop was not productive for you, your co-workers, or our mission.

The purpose of this message is to provide a counseling notice so you fully understand Mazzoni Center’s expectations and what will be the consequences to you for failing to meet them. If you engage in similar behavior in the future, you will subject yourself more serious corrective action, up to and including termination from employment. Formal Mazzoni meetings and topics are organized by Mazzoni leadership; you do not have authority in that regard.
Thank you for what I hope will be your cooperation and there will not be a need to address this further.

Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino | Chief Executive Officer

Philadelphia magazine also obtained an all-staff email that was sent out around Mazzoni’s close of business on Friday cancelling the ogranization’s annual staff outing on the Spirit of Philadelphia, which had been scheduled for Friday, August 24th. There was no explanation given for the cancellation, which, according to Sloan’s open letter was expected to have cost around $12,000.

Sloan is now hoping that the current board of directors “step up and seriously address the situation before more people are impacted by the current leadership. I want what is best for the organization because I appreciate the work of the staff and our patients. I’ve seen this organization already go through poor leadership and mismanagement in the past and these type of actions can’t continue to be tolerated. I am fearful of history repeating itself.”

Since being named the new CEO in March 2018, Sciarrino has faced ongoing criticism from Mazzoni staff and community members with concerns about her sensitivity as a cisgender straight woman leading a local LGBTQ nonprofit.

According to several staffers at the walkout, a collective call for Sciarrino to resign is being prepared.