PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The mission of the Silk Screen Asian Arts organization is to promote Asian arts and culture, but founder Harish Saluja is being accused of sexually harassing his employees.
“I experienced sexual harassment starting in my interview with the executive director, and it went on and on,” Sereny Welsby said.
Welsby was let go Tuesday and the operation shut down. She and others complained to the Silk Screen board that Saluja had made constant and unwelcome comments about their appearance and how they should dress more desirably.
Welsby: “He knew the shape of my body and that I should accentuate it when I’m with him because when I’m with him, I represent him and I need to look good.”
KDKA-TV’s Andy Sheehan: “Did you interpret that as a come on or just inappropriate?”
Welsby: “Inappropriate. I didn’t feel like he was coming on to me. I felt he was trying to objectify me.”
KDKA-TV spoke with two other former female employees who describe similar interactions. In a letter to the board, former employee Sarah Miller quoted Saluja as telling her: “You have a sexy voice. You should speak up.”
In an email, a Pitt professor states she’ll no longer send female interns to Silk Screen after her students complained of harassment.
Sheehan: “I’d like to get your side of the story. There’s been allegation made against you.”
Saluja: “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
KDKA-TV met up with Saluja as he was closing down the office.
Saluja: “I did not grope, I did not touch, I did not rape, I did not saying anything sexual.”
Sheehan: “The allegations are that you had an unhealthy interest in their physical appearance and were also telling them to dress more fetchingly.”
Saluja: “No, no, my instructions were that during the film festival, please dress well.”
But after being told she no longer had a job, Welsby says a board member asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement in return for a $1,000 check.
Welsby: “If you talk about this, we’ll sue you, but if you don’t talk about it, we’ll give you $1,000, but you have to sign this paper.”
Sheehan: “So they’re trying to buy your silence for $1,000?”
Welsby: “Yes. That’s what it looks like to me.”
Vijay Bahl, board chair of Silk Screen Film Festival, issued a statement saying the board voted to suspend operations of Silk Screen due to “financial challenges” and they are speaking with other community organizations “to explore ways to keep the spirit of Silk Screen alive.”
A public relations representative for Silk Screen said the board is aware of the allegations and is “actively addressing them.”