The curtain is about to rise on another act in the legal drama surrounding Playhouse on the Square (POTS) during the heyday of its since-retired founder and executive producer, Jackie Nichols.
Leanna Keyes, a former production manager at POTS, has filed suit in federal court, charging the company with “retaliatory” termination of her services following her role in addressing “allegations of sexual assault” against Nichols.
Amid accusations by several women of past sexual improprieties, Nichols, who is generally credited with having been of seminal importance in the general culture and development of drama in Memphis, took voluntary leave of absence in January, 2018, and in March of the same year formally resigned his position.
The resignation occurred following the completion by the law firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson of an investigation of the charges against Nichols. The investigation, whose results were never made public, was requested by the executive board of POTS.
The Playhouse, under its assumed name of Circuit Playhouse, Inc., is defendant in the current suit by Keyes, who asserts that she was dismissed after “a perfunctory review because she did not fit in the ‘family culture’ of the theatre company, which ‘family culture’ was to tolerate unlawful employment practices and protect predatory sexual assaults.”
Keyes seeks “that a jury be empaneled to hear and decide all issues set forth or fairly raised herein and requests a judgment granting the following relief against the defendant: compensatory damages in the amount of not less than $750,000.00; pre- and post- judgment interest; punitive or exemplary damages in the amount commensurate with defendant’s ability to pay and to deter future misconduct; litigation costs and attorneys’ fees to the extent allowable by law; and any and all other legal and equitable relief that this court may deem just and proper under the circumstances.”
In her first month of employment after being hired by the Playhouse in November 2017, Keyes was “touched inappropriately by a senior staff member,” the suit says, and was “warned … of Jackie Nichols’ predatory behavior and told … specifically not to be alone with him.” Later, she learned of specific public accusations of sexual improprieties against Nichols and, along with “another newly hired staff member, Mr. William Gibbons-Brown, undertook an informal investigation with [POTS] interns and staff.”
Keyes would later prepare a series of demands and goals pertaining to the work environment at POTS and presented them to the Playhouse board on behalf of some 30 interns and staff members. Subsequently, according to the suit, “Whitney Jo and Mike Detroit called an all-staff meeting where they announced that Jackie Nichols had taken a voluntary leave of absence and advised all staff members of the Handbook’s prohibition on any discussion of Playhouse business.”
Though she was never subject to negative evaluations or disciplinary action, the suit alleges that Keyes “noticed that Mike Detroit and Whitney Jo began ignoring and marginalizing her within the workplace.” In February 2018, in the wake of her three-month evaluation period and after completing work on the production Once
, Keyes was given a “perfunctory” review and was told “that she did not fit ‘family culture’ of POTS and was presented with her termination letter.”
Keyes went on to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on February 27, 2018 and was issued a “right to sue letter” by the EEOC.
Her suit alleges that “as a result of Defendant’s conduct in terminating Ms. Keyes’ employment, Ms. Keyes has suffered — and will continue to suffer — lost income, lost fringe benefits, damage to her reputation, humiliation, loss of economic advantage and has incurred expenses in searching for replacement employment.”
One count of the suit alleges that Keyes was subjected to a “hostile work environment.” A second count attests to an “unlawful retaliatory discharge.”
Keyes is represented in her action by Bruce Kramer, Jake Brown, and Melody Dernocoeur of the Apperson Crump legal firm.