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Filoli reaches employee lawsuit settlement

Original post made on Jan 3, 2018

Filoli has reached a confidential settlement to a lawsuit alleging age discrimination brought by four employees who were fired or forced out within six months of the September 2016 arrival of Kara Newport as executive director.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 7:47 AM

Comments (33)

Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 3, 2018 at 11:54 am

This implies the alleged age discrimination was true. Glad the victims got a quick settlement. Let's hope the Filoli board has the good sense to find a new executive director.

Posted by Susan O'Sullivan
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2018 at 2:44 pm

My name is Susan O'Sullivan and I'm currently the manager of member and volunteer services at Filoli. I began serving in this role in October of 2016 when Donna Kenison went on a leave of absence and was hired to fill the role as a permanent, full time employee in January of 2017. I'm 53 years old, not 25. Everything that is claimed in a lawsuit isn't necessarily true and factual.

Posted by Sue Dambrosio
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2018 at 3:06 pm

@whatever: Not everything implied is true. I was employeed by Ms. Newport in December of 2016 as her new assistant— I can assure you I am not 22 years old. I’m in my mid-50’s and I’m happy I was hired to support Kara and team here at Filoli.

Posted by Ingrid Kelly
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 3, 2018 at 4:44 pm

There sure seems to be quite a few inaccuracies as reported. Since Filoli Estate is one of our Country's Crown Jewels please at least speak directly to the Executive Director to ensure you have a balanced story.

Thanks for listening.

Posted by Gone girl
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2018 at 8:52 pm

Linda Fujimoto was respected and loved by Both Staff and volunteers during her ten years there. She brought a sense of togetherness and made it so much fun to work there. Her fabulous taste and creativity brought in a lot of sales and people sought her out. When Kara Newport started she wasn’t getting any attention so she ruthlessly pushed Linda out right at the height of Holiday Traditions in 2016. She ruined the moral and the event and then she proceeded to purge anything associated with Linda. Her former employees at Daniel Stowe in NC even posted reviews stating that she gets rid of anyone with creative ideas and surrounds herself with “talentless minions” so that she can take all of the credit. Something like 300+ volunteers have left since she started there. I’m one of them. She’s also a master of spin so she’ll say none of this is true but the volunteers know it is.

Posted by Sally Hotchkiss
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2018 at 9:00 pm

Kara would take credit for last year's record rainy season if she could. An ugly person.

Posted by from the horse's mouth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 4, 2018 at 10:27 am

Gone girl was right on as to what transpired at Filoli. Newport is a manipulator and will spin any story so that she comes out looking like she won. Always has the last word, will embellish any story to show that she saved Filoli from financial ruin. Any employee or volunteer that says something negative is either asked to leave or set up to be fired.
After assessing all of the reviews of Filoli on yelp, there is a common thread. Kara Newport is bad news.

Know way too much info and all is true.

Posted by Donna Colson
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2018 at 11:09 am

As a 15 year board member and President of the Board of Directors at Filoli, it is important that the broad community know that Kara Newport has done an exceptional job at Filoli - including the following:

* Holiday attendance was nearly 25,000 which is a 150% increase over last year
* Total attendance for 2017 is nearly 175,000 which is about a 40% increase
* We have revised the governance including BOD bylaws and signed an updated cooperative agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (the owner of Filoli)
* We are working to implement best practices in all aspects of our work

Filoli is a public garden serving and welcoming all members of our community. We invite everyone to come and visit as we open early this year (next week) and kick off our gorgeous winter season with the theme of Filoli Unlocked. Hours are now extended to 5 PM so please join us. Thank you to all of our wonderful staff and hard working volunteers as well as the local community members have come and enjoyed this wonderful community asset and supported us in our efforts.

Posted by Rita Redfern
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Just to give a more informed perspective on attendance numbers:

Holiday at Filoli (formerly Holiday Traditions) went from a 9 day run to a *month* long event.

One cannot compare Filoli’s 2017 total visitor attendance to previous years. To do so is disingenuous. New operating hours were put into effect for 2017, extending the daily hours that Filoli was open to the public.

I have been a member of Friends of Filoli for over two decades. I was a delighted to volunteer as a Filoli Docent for a number of those years. I loved feeling “a part of” this magnificent estate and sharing its history with visitors. More recently, I was fortunate to be on Linda Fujimoto’s Garden Shop/Holiday Traditions Staff. Linda, along with Lucy Tolmach, was the creative genius behind the “magic” of the extremely successful Holiday Traditions event. I believe herZeU7 success, along with genuine support from her staff, was Linda’s downfall. The success of others cannot be tolerated by some.

Today, Filoli’s narrative seems to be changing. Under the direction of Kara Newport, Filoli’s “story” has gone from that of the home to two well known Peninsula families, to walking through a static, cold Museum. Where is the warmth? Where are the Matson menu covers and Royal Hawaiian Hotel souvenirs that helped explain the time and place during the Roth family’s Filoli years? Lurline Roth Coonan said, during her presentation to my Docent Class in 1996, that her Mother, Lurline Matson Roth, who gave Filoli in part to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, always wanted the Filoli story to be that of a family home, vibrant, active...and specifically, never as a Museum.

Filoli’s Board of Directors has made its’ share of hiring blunders in the past, but none as grievous, in my opinion, as the decision in hiring the current Filoli Director.

Posted by Gone girl
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2018 at 1:18 pm

One must also know that Ms Colson helped recruit and rented a home to Kara Newport and is in public relations photos where they’re dressed alike. Instead of sending Linda to her retirement with a thank you and big party, she worked hand in hand with Kara to ambush and kick her out. They’ve worked together to try to dilute and eventually take away the power of the volunteers who’ve built the Friends of Filoli.

Posted by Green Gables
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Donna Colson is referred to as DONALD. she is as much a dictator as Kara Newport who does business as a bully, intimidator, does not liked to be questioned, and when she says something is going to be done her way, it is done her way and no other way. MANY volunteers have quit and more are quitting. Kara wants to have either YOUNG volunteers, volunteers who are kissers, and no one with suggestions.

Posted by Donna Colson
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2018 at 3:07 pm

For the record, Kara Brwport rented a home from a person unrelated to Filoli. The above information is simply not accurate.

Kara Newport was retained after an extensive and thorough national search that included significant input and participation from volunteers, staff, and the BOD.

Yes, the longer hours have resulted in greater opportunity for our guests to enjoy the property. We have received tremendous positive response from our guests, many of whom join us for the first time. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff worked so hard to create a welcoming experience for all. And to all of those who continue to provide such generous and gracious support of Filoli - thank you.

Posted by Sad Filoli
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 4, 2018 at 3:30 pm

Kara is not the leader Filoli needs. Numbers and facts are bent, denied, inflated and anything else to please her goals. Many valuable volunteers have left in disgust and others who have been asked to leave because they asked the wrong question or questioned her edicts. Many staff have lost their sparkle because of fear of losing their job. Sure, more money is coming in but is renting the facility to Apple for 800 people for an evening party with damage reported in the house the proper way to follow the mission statement? The shop has for years been a delight for members, volunteers as well as guests. Now we hear most often there is nothing here for me. I do not know the numbers but there is no doubt they are much smaller that before Kara's replacement of Linda Fujimoto. Linda was the buyer for the garden shop and Holiday Traditions. Merchandise was superb and sold well. For years there had been a friendly atmosphere between the volunteers and staff but now both sides feel they have to careful as to what is said for fear it doesn't fit it Kara's vision. Most governing board members haven't been involved with Filoli aside from being on the board.

Posted by Georgette Annie Johnson
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 5, 2018 at 4:00 am

This is the 8th time that I have been to Filoli Estate during the holidays. Definitely a great place to take people visiting SF. The Estate here is world renowned, showcasing both outdoor gardens and indoor galleries. There is plenty of time for you to go through everything in a day. There is also a cafe inside in case you need food and rest. Love this place

There is a noticeable difference for the better in terms of volunteers and integrity of the Estate. The Estate I felt with my family was cheapened in the past when they opened all the rooms and sold mostly cheap gifts throughout the Estate. It was like a street-market in the past. Not appropriate for Filoli Estate. We also felt people should not trample the historical parts of the Estate.

Filoli's new management team has restored the integrity of the Estate and got rid of those cheap things as well as brought in more enthusiastic smart volunteers who are helpful and sharp-minded compared to past years.

We have visited many Estates and Castles overseas and in the USA and feel Filoli has changed for the good and has been brought up to the levels of beauty we expect from an Estate with Filoli's historical value.

Not sure about what these ex-employees have to say in some of these comments but as a family with enormous experience with local Bay Area history Filoli has made an excellent decision to bring in better Management and volunteers and restored the integrity of Filoli Estate.

Thank you from the entire community. And thank you to The Almanac for allowing us to express our opinion.

Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Stating misleading attendance numbers either shows lack of basic mathematical skills, or worse. Sadly enlighting, in my opinion.

Posted by upportive Husband
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 5, 2018 at 5:04 pm

The situation is certainly tragic. Kara Newport's changes have been negative. Many new hires increase the payroll and are often not as competent as those they've replaced. It seems the governing board is unable to find a good director, and ignores their duty in that respect. They remind me of Caesar's famous statement "veni vidi vici" (I came, I say, I conquered). The board's actions are a variation of this: I came, I saw, I concurred. They should stop just listening to Kara Newport and Donna Coulson and do some investigating for themselves.

Posted by Donna Mollenhauer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 5, 2018 at 8:12 pm

As the Chair of the Friends of Filoli, which is comprised of the volunteers, I am pleased to report that Filoli will be even more successful in the future due to the changes that are occurring,
I interact on nearly a daily basis with administration, staff, volunteers and guests in my present role. It is so wonderful to hear the compliments regarding the beauty and history that are told to us by both new and seasoned guests.
In the past, Filoli suffered through a lack of consistent leadership but now there is direction from an intelligent Executive Director, Kara Newport.
So as with any organization, the mal-contented will continue to spread mean-spirited messages, which should be ignored.
With the on-going work of the staff and volunteers, who take pride in being affiliated with this gem on the Peninsula, Filoli cannot help but be successful for the next hundred years.

Posted by Laura Simonds
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2018 at 8:54 am

It's critical to have a fair and balanced report on this issue, and interviewing all the key people to gather correct facts would have helped. In my new position as Vice Chair of the Friends of Filoli, I recognize that the staff, under the direction of Executive Director Kara Newport, is charged with the operations of Filoli, and that the Friends/volunteers provide support and complements the work of the staff. When an organization strives to bring it up to world-class standards and to meet legal and statutory requirements for non-profits, that means some changes may need to be made. Today I see Filoli is building a partnership of the Board of Director, staff, volunteers, and the National Trust--all working together for Filoli's greater good. If we're all rowing in the same direction, we'll reach the goal.

Posted by Sarah hamilton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 6, 2018 at 9:05 pm

I have to say that I went to the new Holiday Traditions and I will no longer support Filoli. What they did to the volunteers is disgraceful. The skewed statistics is also an "alternate reality/fact." I've read the comments here and on Yelp.The experience is true. They may have gotten record numbers of visitors but we were suckered once. Do you think we would be suckered again? Roll out the financial report for next year and it will tell you something different.

What I also found disturbing is I heard the filoli thugs are siccing their attorneys on Yelpers for daring to have an opinion (not a rosy one about the female Trumpette in charge). So censorship is the new Filoli tradition? I bet the First Amendment will disagree.

The Bourns and Roths are definitely rolling in their graves as to how their beloved home turned into a cheap Daniel Stowe knock off. It's true the current regime copied the old DS playbook. I went to the DS website to look at the same agenda. I hope the Bourns come out of their graves and smack the idiots in charge.

Posted by Former filoli supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 7, 2018 at 11:10 am

I find it strange that no one ever mentioned that Donna Colson is also a politician: Web Link

I've never known a politician and an EMPLOYEE OF THE PEOPLE, who also serve on a non profit board. Conflict of interest much? Does she draw a salary too?

Colson should do the job she is elected for and resign fromFiloli. It is obvious that she is putting her POLITICIAN'S spin on the facts. The fact that she hired another [portion removed] to be director of Filoli and who is systemically destroying the institution from within is unforgivable.

Finally I'm leaving a review of the Director's works at Daniel Stowe:

Reviewed August 12, 2015
A Botanical Garden That's Not
While visiting friends in Gastonia, my wife and I decided to visit DSBG (Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden). Because this is within a short distance from a large metropolitan area and rated as one of the 20 top gardens by HGTV we were looking forward to a pretty outstanding botanical garden and a pleasing educational experience. It was neither. The potential certainly is there - the water features are nice, the sculptures are well done, the children's garden has some good planning, but the botany (which one would expect at a botanical garden) was sadly disappointing. Many of the beds and pots were overrun with weeds, many of the labels were no longer with the correct plant or the plant had died but the label remained looking like it went with another plant, far too many of the same species/variety (some of that was due to seeds scattering and poor maintenance). Some of the more aggressive species had so overrun their boundary to the point that the non-professional had difficulty sorting which plant went with which label. The Orchid Conservatory was a well laid out building with nice water features and a lot of potential but sadly did not live up to that potential. Most of the orchids were in pots (one still had the price tag easily visible) instead of looking like they were growing in their natural habitat and the diversity was pitiful (the flyer said "...5,000 orchids.." but it failed to say that there were only a few representative species). One of the larger plants in the conservatory was infested with mealy bugs which are likely to become a serious problem in a short time. Because of the tropical atmosphere there is a potential to display a huge diversity of tropical flowers but instead there were many things you can buy at Lowes.

I thought that someone needed to be made aware of my observations so that they could address the problems. I called Executive Director Kara Newport and explained what I had seen. She then prefaced her remarks with, "Not to be defensive but..." and then she proceeded to be defensive, explaining that the board saw this "botanical garden" not as a place to have a diversity of labeled plants but as a place to "...have a pleasant experience.", that they were only 15 years old, that they had a small paid staff and relied on volunteers, etc. I gave up.
Summary: If you are in the Gastonia/Charlotte area and want to have a quiet walk around (I only saw four other people) with nice fountains and a pleasant staff then for $13/person this may be where you want to go but if you are looking for a good botanically enriching experience as well as a pleasant walk you would be better off going into the local woods along the Catawba River - then again maybe it's better at Christmas.

Web Link


This will be Filoli's future. Profits at all cost and a run down estate. All parties involved, I hope you're happy.

Posted by Brenda Murphy
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jan 7, 2018 at 3:33 pm

This seems like a good time during this spirited debate for me to express my thanks to Filoli Estate during this 2017 Christmas celebration.

What a wonderful experience my husband and my five children had walking along the paths and touring this wonderful estate at Filoli. The excitement and amazement in my children's eyes was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. The Christmas decorations were charming and we allowed each child to purchase something for their friends which took an hour alone just looking through all the gifts.

You did a stellar job this year and we all said we could not wait till next year and we will bring some of the extended family.

The moral of the staff was energized and they took extra time making sure the children were satisfied as well as me and my husband. Very smart and enthusiastic volunteers who had incredible knowledge of the estates history.
The Management seems to have very creative idea on the presentation and decorations this year. I'd say; very impressive. This was exactly what many other visitors said; A beautiful important National Trust for Historic Preservation with a story to be that of a family home, vibrant, active and preserved as the Bourns and Roth's would have expected. They would be so proud.

Our thanks to Kara Newport for jumping though the hoop to get us the special attention we needed for our youngest one. We have visited other historical homes such as Larkin House Monterey, Gamble House Pasadena, Castle San Simeon, and Pittock Mansion Portland, and I have to say Filoli is by far the best managed estate although the others are beautiful as well. I know just how difficult it is to run an estate this size and it seems Kara and her team are exceptionally qualified to pull it off.

The Bourns and Roths would have wanted their beloved home preserved in order to bring joy to many others. Thanks to you and your team for its hard work and God Bless.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Will Filoli maintain its snobbery and high prices for some events?

Posted by J. Tisch
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2018 at 4:06 pm

On the way back from my New York apartment and can't wait to attend the new event with my dearest friends. Check it out:

For the first time ever, Filoli will be open for a Winter Season. This season will unlock some of the behind-the-scenes opportunities, a new line-up of specialty tours, and an Operatic Opening for members only. We also have Valentine’s Teas, an all-new Conservation Roadshow, and a black and white photography exhibit that features architectural interest. New stories will be shared as we open our doors for an exciting new year. We invite you to come visit this winter to experience the magic of the winter Garden and hear new tales of the families.

Since we spent the Holidays this year on the East Coast we missed the Holiday celebration at Filoli but I heard it was spectacular this year. Can't wait until 2018 December.

See you all there for the Winter Season.

And I plan on helping with the blood drive at Stanford: See below:

Stanford Blood Center officials say the center is in urgent need of blood donations, especially from O-negative donors, to meet the needs of local hospitals.

Posted by Former FiloliFan
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 9:59 am

I have been associated with Filoli for many years, through the past 5 Executive Directors, and I can say unequivocally that Kara Newport is not a good fit. I don't know where she learned her management "style", but I am guessing Trump University. Her firing of FOUR employees who then WON JUDGEMENTS in court is very telling about her complete lack of leadership skills. The Board should be very worried about future lawsuits. None of the other 5 ED's have failed so spectacularly. Many of the remaining staff and volunteers are not happy about her unprofessional outbursts and bullying, divisive tactics. Her goodwill in the community is forever tainted. The Holiday Tradition was lackluster at best. If she is trying to turn a HISTORICAL ESTATE into a corporate convention center, she is entirely missing the point of a world-class horticultural center. Hiring more office staff is not going to help her keep costs down and improve the garden or even maintain it at a world class level as a horticulture center. Her sneering attitude towards the volunteers is shortsighted in the extreme. Many of them have Estate Plans which included bequests to Filoli which are now being directed elsewhere. Her arrogance at thinking she is better than the staff and volunteers here in the Woodside/Atherton area is not that bright as you never know what nice, down-to-earth member of your community could be wealthy enough to bequeath you several years' operating expenses. I for one have directed my Estate Attorney to take Filoli out of my Will and I know others have done the same. Take note, Filoli Board of Directors, this one is not a keeper. Hopefully you will realize this before it is too late.

Posted by Georgia V.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:28 am

Very interested in the Conservation Roadshow weekend.

My question is may I bring oil paintings and manuscripts from our families historical items.

$25 seems very fair and I should be able to bring others from our sewing class.

I like the fact that proceeds benefit the Filoli Conservation Fund.

Posted by mimi
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:47 am

I remember Filoli from the early days- where the warmth and love the volunteers had for the estate just made it glow. I wanted to "retire" so I could volunteer-but see kids, volunteers don't get paid.

The [disrespectful portion removed] types need big salaries and volunteers don't produce a payroll number so the Supreme Leader(s) can leapfrog her salary when they hop to the next job.

Plus volunteers, are well, yucky older folks and it gets messy when you tell someone to pack up grandpa, we don't want him around anymore. Forget that grandpa took the time to explain something to a wide eyed kid or grandma could explain about needlepoint.

I don't know the latest , in my opinion, wrong hire but I lost total respect when she wrote about all this diversity blather -expand our vistor pool and then slapped a hefty 3 digit price on the "diverse" Anniversary events.

Yes, all the diverse rich people are most welcome.

Filoli was from the beginning a HOME. How sad that the Board is allowing these people they hire at over inflated salaries to make the estate about as far from warm, welcoming as you would expect from a "home."

I am just sad at what I feel is a betrayal of what Filoli was and could be.

Fi -lo- li Seems like the Fidelity is gone for Fight as Love and Live left the building.

Posted by Ronald
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 23, 2018 at 8:58 am

[Portion removed]

Filoli is our favorite and continue to pass it on to our grandkids and their kids.

Posted by Why isn't the board listening?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Filoli Board,

Why does the fact that so many people have responded to this post (and other news stories) and liked comments expressing concerns about Ms. Newport and some and what has transpired not causing you concern? You have longtime supporters telling you they will no longer financially support the organization. Rather than listening to what they are telling you and acknowledging their frustrations (and acknowledging the legal judgments), you're just having other board members respond with tone deaf messages saying "everything is fine. Did you know we are now open in January?" Do you not care that people who have supported Filoli for years and even decades are no longer going to continue to do so? It certainly seems as though you do not.

Posted by athertonhorses
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:43 pm

athertonhorses is a registered user.

I think you answered your own question.

As mentioned I love the things Filoli is doing and the vast majority of our community seem to be in agreement. I certainly respect your opinion.

I am psyched to learn about the historic sculptures, furniture, ceramics and other pieces of garden art that the Bourns and Roths added to enhance the wondrous landscape they created Jan 27th.

Viva Filoli

Posted by conservator friend
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Were he still around, I'm sure Tom Rogers would have been bounced as well!

Posted by Classical Barbara
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Jan 25, 2018 at 7:04 am

[Off-topic post removed]

Posted by disappointed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm

The situation at Filoli is very worrisome. The new executive director has fired some of the most important employees. Also several very loyal and dedicated staff members have been fired on very flimsy grounds. The Holiday Traditions has been renamed and downgraded to a longer, lesser event with mediocre decorations and sale items compared to when it was done by Linda Fujimoto. The same for the store. Sales have decreased in both. She has hired many new employees unnecessarily, thus increasing costs, and not improving the situation. The governing board has not done due diligence in choosing their last three executive directors. The former board president would not listen to complaints, and the board is either in as siege state of denial, or too uninvolved to find out the situation. As for positive comments, the ED told employees at a staff meeting to make positive articles on YELP. Many volunteers have quit due to the current situation, and many more are demoralized. It is such a sad situation, and seems to be getting worse. Let’s hope the board wakes up.

Posted by Rita
a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2018 at 1:44 pm

While out and about recently, I happened to run into a current member of the Filoli Staff, someone I had always considered to be an enthusiastic addition to Filoli’s staff. I asked this person how things were going now that Kara Newport had settled into her Directorship at Filoli. The response was simply a shrug of the shoulders and “it’s a paycheck”. As a former Staff member myself, I can tell you that statement is all you need to know about the direction Filoli has taken under Ms. Newport’s leadership.

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