Marc Chaiken, board member the defunct Broadway nonprofit Circle in the Square theatre company, has filed a motion to dismiss a $2.65 million suit brought against him and fellow board member Ted Sayres by dismissed Circle artistic director Josephine Abady. In the suit, Abady claimed breach of contract, wrongful termination, damage to her reputation and financial losses.
Abady was fired after two seasons at the helm of the legendary but long-troubled theatre. Circle in the Square shuttered in 1997 after a bankruptcy filing and a new artistic director, Gregory Mosher, failed to revive its flagging fortunes.
Abady's lawyer, Enid Langbert, said that Sayres merely responded to her client's complaint, which was filed in March. Chaiken, however, challenged the suit. "Essentially, he submitted affidavits from several board members who were critical of the way Josie did her job," said Langbert. "The things they were critical of, however, were things that weren't part of her job," such as preparing financial statements.
Langbert is preparing to respond, but her initial reaction to the Chaiken's motion is "So what? What we said is they induced the board to breach her contract." Langbert said that the most persuasive aspect of the motion cited a New York State law which shields the usually unpaid board members of nonprofit institutions from lawsuits. She added, however, that "my response is the things we're accusing them of were not done in the normal course of their duties. They acted individually and acted out of malice."
Abady was fired from Circle in 1996 after serving two years on a five and-one-half year contract. According to Langbert, Abady's deal prevented her from dismissal except "upon strictly defined cause," which could not include Abady's artistic judgement. The suit also said that Abady deferred salary and bonuses totalling nearly $75,000, personally loaned money to the theatre, and arranged other loans from family members and institutions. According to the suit, Sayres and Chaiken were abusive in their treatment of Abady, making derogatory remarks about her intelligence, personality and weight, Sayres once saying she suffered from "severe PMS."
Chaiken's lawyer, Judy Katten, did not return a phone call for comment.
-- By Robert Simonson