Artis-Naples (“Naples Philharmonic Orchestra”), a visual and performing arts nonprofit organization in Southwest Florida, has violated Florida and federal law by unlawfully discriminating against three employees in connection with its COVID-19 shot mandate. Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to Artis-Naples to reinstate the three employees to their full-time positions with the orchestra by Friday, May 20, 2022 to avoid litigation. However, Artis-Naples has failed to agree to follow the law.
Liberty Counsel represents the employees who are longtime, tenured members of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and have collectively served with distinction for several decades. Some moved to Naples and established roots there specifically so that they could use their talents for Artis-Naples, beating out very stiff competition for their positions. They have no other place to go—nor do they want to go elsewhere. However, 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. Now, Artis-Naples has indicated that it has terminated the employees, effective as of June 30, 2022.
Until May 20, 2022, Artis-Naples allowed its patrons to attend orchestra events even if unvaccinated, if they presented negative COVID-19 tests at the entrance. Now, Artis-Naples has rescinded all COVID-19 requirements for patrons, allowing unvaccinated patrons to attend orchestra events, share the same space with orchestra members, and interact freely with orchestra members before and after the events. And yet, Artis-Naples has steadfastly refused to provide the same testing accommodation to its employees and has refused to lift the vaccination requirement for its employees.
Artis-Naples is clearly violating state and federal law. 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 on the basis of 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’ 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 must fully and immediately reinstate these employees to avoid further litigation.”