Today, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against Artis-Naples (“Naples Philharmonic”) in U.S. District Court for discriminating against three former employees who have sincere religious objections to the organization’s COVID-19 shot mandate. 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.
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.
Passed last year, Fla. Stat. §381.00317 imposes an automatic, non-discretionary legal obligation on all Florida employers to exempt their employees from workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements based on the employees’ religious beliefs or agreement to undergo periodic testing. Once an employee requests such an exemption, Florida employers have no choice but to grant it. In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits Artis-Naples from discriminating against its employees on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Artis-Naples’s refusal to grant its employees the same accommodation it granted to patrons, and its refusal to grant its employees the exemptions required by state law, are clear violations of Title VII.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Artis-Naples is violating state and federal law by refusing to exempt from its COVID shot mandate employees who object to the shots based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. No one should be forced to inject this or any substance in their bodies, especially when doing so violates their sincere religious beliefs. It is wrong to violate the fundamental right to free and informed consent and bully people into compliance. Artis-Naples is unlawfully discriminating against the religious beliefs of its employees while allowing patrons to be unvaccinated.”