Ex-Remai Modern CEO says he wouldn't have settled with complainant over 'preposterous' discrimination claim

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The former CEO and executive director of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum says he wouldn't have settled a human rights complaint filed against the gallery if he had remained involved in the process.

On Monday, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission announced that the gallery and one of its former employees had reached a financial settlement overseen by the chief commissioner. The sum was not disclosed, but the complainant — who CBC News has agreed not to name — said she was "very happy" with the amount.

Before the settlement, the chief commissioner had said the complaint had enough merit to get a public court hearing.

In 2016, the employee — who worked for the museum's previous incarnation, Mendel Art Gallery — formally accused then-CEO and executive director Gregory Burke of discrimination on the basis of gender. The gallery was co-named in the complaint.

Burke has vigorously denied the claim and did so again in a statement shared by his lawyer on Tuesday.

"Any suggestion that I would undertake discrimination on the basis of gender is preposterous," Burke wrote. "I have a strong record for championing human rights and equality in the arts."

Burke pointed to a Globe and Mail article from earlier this year in which former female colleagues spoke of his support for equality in the workplace.

'It has now been over five years'

Burke left the museum in early 2019. He was no longer part of the complaint by the time it was settled this week.

Late last year, Burke successfully petitioned a Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench judge to stay the proceeding against him — in other words, to have himself removed from the complaint process. Justice Brenda Hildebrandt castigated the human rights commission for its "astonishingly slow" 31-month investigation and said Burke had "languished under the cloud of uncertainty for too long."

Burke said in his statement this week that he took no part in the settlement "and would not have if I had been party to the proceedings."

CBC News has reached out to the gallery's lawyer for comment.

"I also note that membership of the current Board of Remai Modern does not include anyone from the 2015 board against whom the complaint was lodged," Burke added.

Burke pointed to other parts of Hildebrandt's ruling, including her conclusion that the complaint contained no statements involving "overt acts of gender or sex-based discrimination."

"It has now been over five years since the complaint was laid and the impact on me personally and professionally since then has been very significant," Burke wrote.