Filoli's governing board on Thursday morning, Feb. 19, sent an email to all volunteers telling them that they would be allowed to "opt out of the release clause" of a new volunteer agreement that they had been told they must sign by March 1 if they want to continue volunteering.
The email, signed by Toni Barrack, president of Filoli's governing board, says the board met Wednesday, Feb. 18, and "concluded that the Volunteer Agreement is reasonable and appropriate for Filoli and consistent with common practice in today's nonprofit world."
The email, continues, however, to say: "After considerable discussion and input from our advisors, the Governing Board has approved the opportunity for volunteers to opt out of the release clause by crossing out and initialing this clause when signing the agreement. Those who have already signed the agreement will be given the opportunity to re-sign, crossing out this clause if they desire."
The clause in question is the third out of five on a new Volunteer Agreement (PDF) that volunteers had been told they must sign by March 1 if they want to continue as Filoli volunteers.
It says: "Release and indemnification: I agree that I, my successors, assignees, heirs, guardians, and legal representatives will not make a claim of any negligence, personal injury, wrongful death or property damage against Filoli and its employees, officers and agents for claims and liability which was incurred as part of my participation in volunteer activities, including my travel to and from Filoli."
Some volunteers said they had been advised by an attorney not to sign the agreement because it would leave them liable even if the negligence of someone at Filoli had caused injury, or worse, to the volunteer. Attorneys had also advised that signing the clause could leave the volunteer personally responsible if a Filoli guest sued over an injury or property damage, volunteers said.
They also said the release was unfair because it was not required of guests at Filoli, only of volunteers. Only members of Filoli can volunteer.
The email acknowledges that "some of the interactions during the roll out of the volunteer agreement have been disruptive. It will take significant time and effort to work through the many issues created."
The email also says the board "fully supports" its executive director, Cynthia D'Agosta, "in her efforts to restore a productive environment throughout Filoli."
Some volunteers say they are still unhappy. "Half a loaf," one said. Another was more blunt: "This is completely unacceptable."
● Earlier story: Volunteers may quit if forced to sign new agreement (Feb. 18, 2015).