Carlos Kalmar sues CIM

Former principal conductor forced out as a result of student protests, sues for damages upward of $260 million
A symphony of scandal surrounds the Cleveland Institute of Music as former Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar sues the prestigious institution for the alleged mishandling of a Title IX adjudication proceeding.
A symphony of scandal surrounds the Cleveland Institute of Music as former Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar sues the prestigious institution for the alleged mishandling of a Title IX adjudication proceeding.
Clay Preusch/The Observer

Following a tumultuous academic year at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) complete with a Title IX investigation and student protests, former Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar filed a lawsuit against the school for between $5 and $260 million in damages, not including attorney fees. The lawsuit stems from an anonymous Title IX claim that inspired a large student protest, leading to Kalmar being placed on administrative leave—accusations Kalmar denies.

The 48-page lawsuit filed in the Eastern Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Jan. 31 claims that CIM violated his rights to confidentiality in the Title IX adjudication process. Lawyers for Kalmar and his wife, who is a co-defendant, argue that an email sent by Vivian Scott, CIM’s former Title IX coordinator and Title IX compliance officer, which named Kalmar as the target of a Title IX inquiry, violated his rights to confidentiality. Therefore, according to Kalmar’s lawyers, CIM can be held liable for retaliation. Scott sent an email to the student body requesting that students come forward with their experiences, citing an anonymous course evaluation which started with, “I know most of the people who will read this are men, but I also invite you to think about what it’s like to be a woman in his orchestra.”

Scott was later removed from her position at CIM. The university said this was due to budget cuts and general organizational restructuring and not because CIM was silencing “those reporting allegations,” according to a “Fact-Check” webpage on CIM’s website. Scott was formerly shared between CIM and the Cleveland Institute of Art, but today works only at the latter.

The lawsuit specifically cites actions by Scott, Executive Vice President and Provost Scott Harrison, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and Dean of the Institute Dean Southern and CIM President and CEO Paul Hogle, who are all listed as co-defendants. Southern later became CIM’s acting Title IX officer upon Scott’s departure. Kalmar’s lawyers claim that Harrison, Southern and Hogle were negligent for onboarding Scott when they “knew or should have known that Defendant Scott was incompetent to serve as CIM’s Title IX Coordinator,” and, as they all oversaw the Title IX system, they are all responsible for the situation—even if they were not the individuals directly responsible, the upper-level administrators still were complicit.

The Title IX investigation into Kalmar was dismissed. The lawsuit claims he was “cleared of any sexual misconduct,” however, the dismissal caused distress amongst the student body, which organized a collaborative protest effort. On Sept. 13, 2023, dozens of students sat silently in the first orchestra rehearsal of the academic year, refusing to play under Kalmar’s baton. Students cited concerns with the administration’s actions regarding the dismissal of the investigation and the lack of consideration of faculty opinions during the initial search for an orchestra director. A petition delivered to Hogle on the day of the protest read, “During the process of Mr. Kalmar’s hiring, the higher-level administration chose to disregard numerous alarms raised by faculty members. By disbanding the Orchestra Director Search Committee, the administration empowered its own execrable selection while silencing the concerned voices of the faculty.” Kalmar’s legal team noted that under his employment contract, he was the sole person responsible for determining standards and rehearsal responsibilities. Additionally, CIM never supported him by refusing to adhere to its Student Code of Conduct, creating an environment that was “overwhelmingly difficult, humiliating, and untenable for Kalmar.”

Kalmar’s legal team claims that the protests were misguided. “Many students and faculty, misinformed as they were, publicly protested Kalmar. The school placated and surrendered to the misinformed and misled mob,” the lawsuit states. The document further claims that when he was hired, the school performed a background check that “did not discover a single instance of an allegation of sexual misconduct or discrimination.” As a result, the document argues that Kalmar has been “canceled” and the damage done to his reputation has prevented him from obtaining employment opportunities now and for the foreseeable future.

After the protest, Kalmar was placed on administrative leave from the conservatory. The lawsuit claims this was done without any justification or written notice.

The suit contains 12 claims for relief: 12 different reasons why CIM is liable. These range from damages directly regarding Title IX violations and contract breaches to claims of defamation, emotional distress and a “loss of consortium” between Kalmar and his wife.

In the past academic year, CIM lost significant faculty members, including renowned trumpeter and pedagogue Michael Sachs. His resignation followed an email from CIM’s legal team and HR department which accused him of making “a statement which [he has] never made.” As Sachs stated in a public Facebook post announcing his resignation, “This incident was not the first baseless attack by members of CIM’s administration on my character, reputation, and integrity. Because I will not tolerate any further such attacks, I made the decision to resign from all positions that I held with the Cleveland Institute of Music, effective immediately.”

The school has also made significant strides, including attaining a significant scholarship endowment and hiring pianist Gabriela Montero as piano faculty and Jonathan and Linn Epstein Artist-in-Residence. CIM also noted an increase in the number of applications for the 2024-25 school year, up to 1,015 as compared to the 985 applications for the 2023-24 school year.

The court case is still ongoing. In response, representatives from CIM told The Observer that they “can confirm that Carlos Kalmar, director of orchestra and conducting programs and principal conductor (currently on administrative leave), has filed a complaint in federal court against the organization. CIM is limited in its ability to comment on active litigation involving confidential personnel matters, but will vigorously defend itself against the allegations, remaining focused on providing its students with exceptional educational opportunities. At this time, the Institute will not issue an additional statement on this matter.”

As the controversy at CIM reaches its climax, Kalmar is not bowing out quietly. It is clear that this past year has been a difficult one for CIM administrators, faculty and students alike, and it might continue to be with a possibly long, ugly court battle ahead.

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