Musicians Seek Injunction Against Orchestra for Shot Mandate

Sep 22, 2022

FT. MYERS, FL – Liberty Counsel filed a request for a preliminary injunction against Artis-Naples (“Naples Philharmonic”) on behalf of three former employees to prevent the organization from replacing their unique positions as tenured musicians of the orchestra while the lawsuit proceeds. The injunction is necessary because Artis-Naples is now planning to permanently replace the positions by holding auditions today for the Associate Principal Second Violin and may extend a permanent contract to a replacement musician within a few days. 

Artis-Naples, a visual and performing arts nonprofit organization in Southwest Florida, violated Florida and federal law by unlawfully discriminating against and terminating the three employees in connection with its COVID-19 shot mandate. The former employees—a clarinet, a violin and a viola player— have sincere religious objections to the organization’s COVID-19 shot mandate and filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking reinstatement to their tenured jobs, and compensatory and punitive damages against Artis-Naples for its willful and flagrant violation of the law. 

All three plaintiffs have exceptional music education and talent with combined 82 years of dedicated service at Artis-Naples. 

One plaintiff was a clarinet player at Naples Philharmonic since 2005.  She won the position of assistant principal clarinet over more than 200 other supremely talented musicians. Once she earned the position, there was a year-long process to become “tenured,” which involved the audition committee meeting several times with the conductor to receive updates on her playing performance and personality within the group. She had every intent on staying at this job until retirement in her mid-to-late sixties. Since she was wrongfully terminated, she has sent her resume to other symphonies in the area without success. In addition, her husband left his full-time tenure track professor of music theory and composition job at Wheaton College in Illinois about 15 years ago, so they live in Naples and pursue her career at Artis-Naples. After many years, he has finally built a professional musical life here in Naples. 

Another plaintiff, who was a viola player at Naples Philharmonic since 1989, received his master’s degree at The Juilliard School of Music.  He won the position over more than 200 applicants and was awarded a contract with a probationary status for two years. At the end of those two years, the CEO, music director, and audition committee reviewed his job performance and awarded him a full tenured position with the Naples Philharmonic. He had dedicated his entire career to the Naples Philharmonic and helped build the orchestra into one of the most successful ensembles in the country. His personal goal was to perform there until he was 80 years old. 

The third plaintiff who was a violin player in the Naples Philharmonic since 1990, largely as the prestigious position of Associate Principal Second Violin. He trained at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he received Bachelor and Master of Music degrees with academic honors. When he began performing at the Naples Philharmonic in 1990, he was just one of many violinists in the violin section. Several years later, he auditioned again and won the position as Associate Principal Second Violin and sat in a “titled chair” as a leader of about ten musicians.  He had planned to work for the Naples Philharmonic until he retired but could not violate his conscience, so now he is unemployed with no prospect for finding a comparable job.

Instead of granting the employees’ religious exemption requests, last October 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 recently settled the nation’s first-of-its-kind class action settlement against a private employer who unlawfully denied hundreds of religious exemption requests to COVID-19 shots. NorthShore University HealthSystem will pay $10,337,500 to compensate these employees who were victims of religious discrimination, and who were punished for their religious beliefs against taking an injection associated with aborted fetal cells. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Artis-Naples has unlawfully discriminated against these three musicians who have dedicated their professional careers to this orchestra but have religious objections to the COVID shot. Artis-Naples is clearly violating state and federal law, and it should take note what happened when NorthShore University HealthSystem refused to accept religious exemptions. Instead of following the law, Artis-Naples is already preparing to replace these exceptional musicians. Liberty Counsel is asking the court to intervene and stop this unlawful action.” 

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