In February of this year, the Geffen Playhouse announced that longtime artistic director Randall Arney was stepping down from his role after a 17-year run. The Geffen stated that Arney was leaving to pursue other directorial projects, and that his decision was prompted by a desire to ensure the theatre was “well positioned for the future,” according to an L.A. Times report that broke the news.
However, the day after the Geffen’s August 21 announcement that 42-year-old director Matt Shakman had been tapped as its latest artistic director, Arney, 61, filed suit with the Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit claims that in 2012 the Geffen’s board co-chairs Pamela Henderson and Martha Robinson changed the terms of his contract “abruptly and without notice,” presenting him with a new agreement limiting his employment to a two-year term with the option for the Geffen to extend for a third year. Arney had recently turned 55.
Deadline first reported news of the suit.
The filed complaint states that board co-chairs Henderson and Robinson called a meeting with Arney on February 13, 2017, at which time they informed him that his contract would not be renewed due to the theatre’s concerns over “succession.” Arney was instructed to gather his staff the following day and inform them of the Geffen’s decision.
The suit goes on to disclose details of Arney’s personal health, citing it as a factor in the Geffen’s decision to replace him with a younger artistic director—and prompting charges of disability and age discrimination, as well as failure to prevent discrimination.
Geffen Executive Director Gil Cates, Jr. released a statement in February praising Arney’s “varied and numerous” contributions to the Geffen, and thanking him for his “inspired artistic leadership, unwavering commitment to our mission, and for leaving his indelible mark on our beloved institution.” Arney made no public statement regarding his departure.
On February 14, Henderson and Robinson sent a letter to Geffen board members informing them of their decision not to renew Arney’s contract in order to “position the theatre for the future.” The letter indicated that Arney was involved in the decision-making process, and had voluntarily agreed to transition out of his role in order to pursue other professional opportunities.
Arney is seeking a jury trial.