Under pressure from employees and some of its member-owners, Wheatsville Food Co-op has placed its longtime top executive on administrative leave pending an investigation into his workplace conduct.
Dan Gillotte, who has been Wheatsville's top executive for more than a decade, is under fire for a YouTube video he uploaded four years ago of a song he wrote that includes racial stereotypes of black men.
Gillotte removed the video two weeks ago after a staffer told him it was inappropriate.
After an online petition was created calling for his resignation, the co-op announced to staff members on Saturday that Gillotte had been placed on administrative leave pending a third-party investigation into his conduct at work, according to internal memos obtained by the American-Statesman.
RELATED: Wheatsville exec responds after petition accuses him of ‘racist’ video, calls for his resignation
Gillotte last week stepped down as president from the board of directors of the National Co-op Grocers, an organization that represents 145 food co-ops in the U.S. Gillotte had served on the board since 2011.
At a Monday night meeting, Wheatsville's board of directors faced criticism as more than three dozen current and former employees and members of the co-op packed into a side room at the Wheatsville on Guadalupe to express concerns to the nine-person board about the nature of the video and other allegations of mismanagement under Gillotte’s leadership.
Two co-op members spoke in support of Gillotte, but more than a dozen spoke in favor of his dismissal, while others expressed concern about the overall management of the co-op, including its governing board.
Several people who spoke at the meeting alleged that Gillotte and Wheatsville's leadership have failed to address complaints of sexual harassment and racial harassment at the co-op.
Others expressed concern over the lack of term limits for the board, the lack of transparency during the auditing process and a lack of staff representation on the board. As it currently stands, Gillotte is the only employee representative on the board, and according to several staffers, all grievances must go through him.
Gillotte, who has an annual salary of $128,000, was not at the meeting. Efforts to reach him for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Wheatsville board president Rose Marie Klee read a statement from the board that apologized for the “insensitive messages contained in a recently resurfaced video of one of our employees," but she did not respond to individual comments during the meeting.
After 45 minutes, the board closed Monday's meeting to the public and went into executive session. The board did not say when it would make additional comments about the allegations brought up during the meeting, when the minutes of the executive session would be released or when the third-party investigation would begin.
Also after the meeting, several employees who made allegations of harassment declined to speak on the record about their claims, saying they feared retaliation over violating co-op policy.
Deanna Orozco, an employee at Wheatsville who spoke during the meeting and also in an interview afterward, said she is concerned about more than just the video posted by Gillotte.
“I’m an employee and an owner, and half of my paychecks are spent back at Wheatsville,” she said. “I worry about what’s going on here.”
Nancy Mims, who has been a co-op member for 20 years, told the board that she was disgusted by the “racist and misogynistic messages” in the song and also the response from the board and Gillotte.
“This song and the response are one thing, but it’s the stories of ongoing workplace discrimination and harassment, as well as a culture of retaliation against those brave enough to report these incidents, that prove to me Wheatsville is in immediate need of new leadership.”
Co-op member Kristin Lindsay said the video doesn’t represent Wheatsville’s values, but said she was concerned with the board’s response.
“Anyone who comes here is supposed to feel comfortable. It sounds good, but they don’t really mean it,” she said. “This culture allowed (Gillotte) to remain in a prominent, powerful position for a very long time. That indicates something systemic.”
The executive session lasted at least two hours, and after the meeting, Klee emailed the following statement to the American-Statesman: "We very much appreciate the participation in this evening’s meeting, and the honest and open concerns that have been raised. The commitment to Wheatsville and the community we serve is what makes Wheatsville special. Going forward, we will continue to closely listen to Wheatsville employees and our owners. We have retained a third-party human resources consultant to evaluate this issue. We will take the appropriate action that corresponds with our core values and our organization’s purpose once that review has concluded."
Founded in 1976, Wheatsville opened a second location of the store on South Lamar Boulevard in 2013. According to the co-op's website, it has more than 21,000 invested member-owners.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistated that Wheatsville is the only food co-op in Texas. There are others in Dallas and Houston.