Court Denies Naples Orchestra Motion in Shot Mandate Case

Jun 27, 2023

In Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit against Artis-Naples (“Naples Philharmonic”) alleging unlawful discrimination in terminating three musicians for refusing the COVID-19 shot mandate, the U.S. District Court Middle Division of Florida denied Artis-Naples’ motion on June 9, 2023 to strike breach of contract from the lawsuit. 

In April 2023, Liberty Counsel amended the complaint to include additional claims of religious discrimination under the Florida Civil Rights Act, violation of the Florida Whistleblower Act, in addition to a breach of contract by Artis-Naples.   

In May 2023, Artis-Naples filed the motion to strike the breach of contract citing a previous motion where the Court ordered the musicians to withhold the breach of contract claim in any amendment because they had not yet “exhausted the grievance procedures” available. The Court stated that federal collective bargaining agreement regulations “preempted” any breach of contract claim.

However, in denying the motion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kyle C. Dudek cited previous case law that not every dispute concerning employment is preempted by a collective bargaining agreement. Judge Dudek ruled that “although the Court prohibited the Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim, there is nothing improper about them continuing to reference their employment contract (and the parties conduct thereunder) in the amended complaint.” 

The musicians allege Artis-Naples, a visual and performing arts nonprofit organization in Southwest Florida, violated Florida and federal law by unlawfully discriminating against and terminating them in connection with its COVID-19 shot mandate. The three plaintiffs were longstanding musicians for the Naples Philharmonic for a combined 82 years. As committed Christians, they will not violate their religious convictions and accept the COVID injections, all of which are associated with aborted fetal cells. 

The lawsuit is slated to head to trial in the district court. 

In October 2021, instead of granting the employees’ religious exemption requests, Artis-Naples placed the three employees on an involuntary, partially paid leave of absence, prohibiting them from working. Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter on May 16, 2022 to Artis-Naples to reinstate the three employees to their full-time positions with the orchestra.  However, Artis-Naples refused to accommodate their religious beliefs, refused to follow the clear requirements of Florida law mandating religious exemptions, and refused to allow the employees to take the same alternative precautions that Artis-Naples permitted its patrons to take when attending concerts and sharing the same space and air as the musicians. 

Then Artis-Naples terminated the employees as of June 30, 2022. Artis-Naples Philharmonic ignored Liberty Counsel’s demand letter. Naples Philharmonic is violating the federal law known as Title VII and Florida law that mandates employers to provide accommodation to employees who object to the COVID shots. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Artis-Naples is violating state and federal law by rejecting without any consideration the religious beliefs of its employees. This is another great sign from the court that justice will prevail for these talented and dedicated musicians.” 

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