Zoë Williams says Meow Wolf hired them last year after they raised concerns in a Facebook comment. A longtime artist, activist and Denver native, Williams (who uses the pronoun "they") says they commented on the company's Denver announcement post with questions about what plans the growing arts corporation had to ensure lesser-served sectors of the city's community would benefit from its Colorado presence.
Shortly thereafter, Williams tells SFR, then-CEO Vince Kadlubek offered them the job, and Williams became acting director of community engagement for Meow Wolf's upcoming Denver installation
"My role was to guide the company's corporate social responsibility work," Williams says.
But soon, Williams says Meow Wolf began tossing up obstacles—almost as if the company hoped hiring them would keep Williams quiet.
Williams is talking publicly for the first time since they filed a formal complaint with the New Mexico Department of Workforce solutions this summer.
Williams says the nature of the job, which included forming a committee of various races, identities and abilities to better align Meow Wolf to handle its community presence, required more time than managers wanted to pay for. Even with longer hours, many of the recommendations and ideas they developed in tandem with the committee were either not implemented well or ignored outright, they say.
Williams' complaint alleges they were "directed to change the evaluations of male employees to make them more favorable so that they can obtain raises and have been forbidden from disciplining these same employees for not completing their work."
When Williams attempted to handle their concerns within the company, they tell SFR, they were "definitely given the impression that I was viewed as being aggressive, that I was alienating people, that I was harming my reputation and my chances of advancement."
This echoes the language in the lawsuit filed by former Santa Fe employees Tara Khozein and Gina Maciuszek in July. Their lawyer is seeking court recognition that a entire class of people who work or worked at Meow Wolf have been subject to mistreatment.
Williams tells SFR they hope to join that suit.
Back in Denver, artist Mar Williams (who is no relation to Zoë and also uses the pronoun "they") says they wound up with their job in a similar fashion.
Mar, too, had issues with Meow Wolf's practices and how the arts group members "were presenting themselves within the Denver art community when they were just getting a foothold here."
"To my surprise, Vince [Kadlubek] gave me a job. I was suspicious then, but put my hope into being able to make a positive impact within the company," they continue. "Turned out my suspicions were warranted, and any influence I was led to believe I had was just lip service."
A spokesperson for Meow Wolf declined to comment on the new allegations and would not provide a number of employees for its various locations. A recent list published by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce pegs the local number at 180.
Mar also plans to join the class action motion, and says that they consistently observed the company's higher-ups and HR department's inaction in the face of complaints from employees. In some cases, they allege, inaction evolved into retaliation.
"Most the time I'd be told my opinion was valued, but then be isolated and pushed further out. It was incredibly frustrating and destroyed my motivation. I considered quitting many times," Mar says. "When I finally heard from other people in the company of very similar experiences, I realized what was happening wasn't unique to me. My concerns were addressed in a way that led me to believe that they were being heard, but I never saw any difference. Nothing changed."
Zoë Williams says they faced similar backlash, including being cut out of correspondence pertinent to their job as well as meetings and other company functions necessary for their department to thrive.
"The message being sent is, 'you're no longer needed here,'" they say.
To take legal action, they also say, is to have exhausted all other possible options.
"My hope has always been to deal with these issues using the most internal processes, the least invasive, the most direct ways possible," they tell SFR. "In order to get to this point, I've asked for help from HR, other people within the company—I've tried every method I could."
Both Zoë and Mar continue to work for Meow Wolf—they are, after all, contracted employees. They still hope to improve conditions for women, trans and nonbinary employees, fearing those workers may believe they have no choice but to keep quiet if they want to continue to work for Meow Wolf.
"I still am committed to my responsibilities to my community and to the neighborhood I've built relationships with, to the staff I've made commitments to," Zoë adds. "I'm going to stay there for as long as I'm able."