The U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida announced today that three former employees of Artis-Naples (“Naples Philharmonic”) are likely to prevail in their lawsuit against the orchestra.
Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against Artis-Naples for discriminating against three former employees who have sincere religious objections to the organization’s COVID shot mandate.
Judge John L. Badalamenti will hold an evidentiary hearing within the next week to determine whether to grant an immediate injunction against Artis-Naples. The employees—a clarinet, a violin and a viola player—are seeking reinstatement to their tenured jobs, and compensatory and punitive damages against Artis-Naples for its willful and flagrant violation of the law.
Liberty Counsel also filed a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the organization from replacing their unique positions as tenured musicians of the orchestra while the lawsuit proceeds. Judge Badalamenti wrote, “To obtain a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs must establish the following requirements: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat of irreparable injury; (3) that the threatened injury to the plaintiff outweighs the potential harm to the defendant; and (4) that the injunction will not disserve the public interest. After a preliminary review of the operative complaint, the Court notes that it appears that Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits on at least one of their claims. Determining whether Plaintiffs will, absent the issuance of a preliminary injunction, sustain a substantial threat of irreparable injury (as well as the other factors outlined above) requires an evidentiary hearing.”
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 three plaintiffs were longstanding musicians for the Naples Philharmonic for a combination of 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.
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 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 a great sign from the court that justice will prevail for these talented and dedicated musicians.”