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Director of Dutch Knowledge Institute for Emancipation Fired for Transgressive Behaviour

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Director of Dutch Knowledge Institute for Emancipation Fired for Transgressive Behaviour

Robert van de Griend

Netherlands, Volkskrant News

30 December 2022

Kaouthar Darmoni has been fired as director of Atria, the Dutch knowledge institute for emancipation and women’s history in Amsterdam. She has seriously misbehaved in several areas, according to an external investigation by Hoffmann Bedrijfsrecherche, the conclusions of which are in the hands of de Volkskrant.

Library of Atria on the Vijzelstraat in Amsterdam. Image Joris van Gennip

Darmoni is said to have been guilty of “(sexual) transgressive and intimidating behavior” towards subordinates at Atria, a leading institute that has been committed to equal treatment of men and women since 1935. She is also said to have dealt with employees’ employment rights with ‘dishonesty’.

The conclusions, which are shared in an e-mail from the Supervisory Board of Atria with the (former) employees who participated in the Hoffmann investigation, are extra sensitive because Atria itself advises governments and companies on creating a safe working environment. and combating transgressive behaviour.

The findings also show that Darmoni, who had been a director at Atria since October 2019 and made frequent appearances in the media and the speaker circuit, manipulated the outcome of an employee satisfaction survey. She is said to have removed the “cries for help” expressed by almost half of the staff from the results and thus concealed them from the supervisory board.

In addition, Darmoni, who was born in Tunisia and studied in France, would have told untruths about her education and work experience. Hoffmann speaks of ‘deceit and/or error’.

Based on these conclusions, Atria’s supervisory board nullified Darmoni’s employment contract in early December.

‘Led around the garden’

The investigation into Darmoni was initiated in July after employees expressed their dissatisfaction with her to Atria’s confidential adviser. Since then, Darmoni has not been working, saying she was ill. In the e-mail about the findings of the Hoffmann investigation, which includes the complaints of 23 employees, the Supervisory Board (RvT) writes: can continue.” And: “Although the Supervisory Board was also fooled by Ms. Darmoni for many months and even from the outset, the Supervisory Board regrets that the supervisory system did not function properly on several occasions.”

Three former employees of Atria, with whom de Volkskrant spoke, who worked in different departments of the institute, endorse Hoffmann’s findings.

Independently of each other, they characterize Darmoni as ‘exhibitional’ and ‘uninhibited’. She is said to have seized the opportunity to undress herself on several occasions and to have stood “in her bra or her thong” on the work floor. She would also have kissed employees on the back of the head without being asked. The fact that Darmoni started the weekly meeting on Monday morning with belly dancing as standard – something she herself has said in interviews – was also seen as inappropriate by the former employees.

“We all had to participate in belly dancing,” says Nicky, who, like the two other former employees, only wants to be in the newspaper with a fictitious name for fear of reprisals. “Most of us hated that. Sometimes Kaouthar pressed her breasts or buttocks against you while dancing. If anyone said anything about her behavior, she would laugh at you squarely.”

Culture of fear

According to the former employees, who also shared their experiences with Darmoni with the Hoffmann researchers, there was a “culture of fear” among the dismissed director. Members of staff who criticized her substantive course or management style were systematically publicly insulted, bullied or put aside.

“If you fell out of favor with Kaouthar, you ended up before the tribunal,” says Charlie. “She would turn other colleagues against you or start yelling at you in front of everyone. We had a constant fear: who is going to be next?”

Ex-employee Sam says: “All the time I worked with Kaouthar I didn’t dare ask her a critical question.”

The former employees also say that under the responsibility of Darmoni, the Atria building was filled with cameras that recorded images and sound. Although this was presented as a measure to prevent theft by construction workers, in practice the cameras would also have been used to keep an eye on the staff. “We have been called to account several times about something that was observed through those cameras,” says Sam. “This has been repeatedly raised because it violates the privacy law. But nothing was ever done with it.”

Signals already in 2020

The departed employees are satisfied with the outcome of the Hoffmann investigation, but are also critical of the role of Atria’s supervisory board. They should have intervened much earlier, they think, because there had been signs for some time that Darmoni was displaying misconduct. “Our works council already sounded the alarm in 2020,” says Charlie.

The high turnover of staff at Atria should also have been an indication for the supervisory board, according to the former employees. In 2020 and 2021, a total of 34 people left, according to the institute’s annual reports, out of a workforce of about 33.

The three former employees with whom de Volkskrant spoke, criticize the fact that the supervisory board wants to give as little publicity as possible to Darmoni’s forced dismissal. In the e-mail about the findings of the Hoffmann investigation, the Supervisory Board writes that it is better to keep a low profile in the media. That would be ‘in [the] interest of Atria, the (former) employees and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science as a subsidy provider’ and ‘to protect the victims of the transgressive behaviour’.

Nicky: ‘I understand that the Supervisory Board wants to safeguard the reputation of Atria and the subsidy from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Education, Culture and Science, ed.). That is also important, because a lot of people are doing good work there. But if you keep Kaouthar’s misbehavior quiet, she will soon be in a high position somewhere else and making victims there too.”


When asked, the Supervisory Board informs de Volkskrant that a mediation process with Darmoni had already been initiated prior to the Hoffmann investigation, after ‘serious reports’ had been received about her in December 2021. That trajectory would have been ‘aborted’ by Darmoni in February.

The Supervisory Board does not want to comment on other questions: “We are currently in the legal process. As long as this is still ongoing, Atria will not make any announcements about the matter due to due care, in the interest of all involved.

Kaouthar Darmoni tells de Volkskrant that she will challenge her dismissal in court. She calls the grounds for her forced departure “incorrect” and a “mix of fabrications”. She says she has not seen Hoffmann’s research report.

“I have seen the questions that the Hoffmann researchers have put to the Atria employees. This results in a completely incorrect picture. The opinion of employees who are positive and have objected to the insinuating question posed by the researchers has not been included.’

Furthermore, Darmoni does not want to respond to Hoffmann’s conclusions and the statements of the three former employees with whom de Volkskrant has spoken. “My focus is now completely on this summary proceedings.”

Partly due to her flamboyant appearance, her predilection for belly dancing and her openness about her sexuality, Darmoni has been a welcome guest in television programs, magazines and newspapers in recent years. In March of this year, she talked about her tendency to embrace female employees in an interview with Volkskrant Magazine: ‘Even before the pandemic broke out, I was sometimes warned: be careful with touching, it is transgressive behaviour. Some of the women at Atria found it a little scary at first, but then they loved it.”