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Naples Philharmonic Musicians Who Were Allegedly Fired For Not Taking The COVID-19 Vaccine File Lawsuit

ORLANDO, FL. - The U.S. District Court Middle Division of Florida recently denied Artis-Naples' motion to strike breach of contract from Liberty Counsel's lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed against Artis-Naples (also known as "Naples Philharmonic"), alleges unlawful discrimination in the termination of three musicians who refused to comply on religious grounds with the COVID-19 shot mandate. 

In April 2023, Liberty Counsel made amendments to a complaint. These amendments included additional claims related to religious discrimination under the Florida Civil Rights Act, violation of the Florida Whistleblower Act, and breach of contract by Artis-Naples.   

In May 2023, Artis-Naples allegedly submitted a motion to strike the breach of contract claim, referring to a prior motion in which the Court instructed the musicians to refrain from including the breach of contract claim in any amendments until they had completed the available grievance procedures. According to the Court, the federal collective bargaining agreement regulations had the effect of preempting any breach of contract claim.


However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kyle C. Dudek reportedly denied the motion, stating that previous case law indicates that not all employment disputes are preempted by a collective bargaining agreement. Judge Dudek allegedly ruled that the Court did not allow the Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim, but it is acceptable for them to mention their employment contract and the parties' conduct in the amended complaint. 

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The musicians claim that Artis-Naples, a nonprofit organization focused on visual and performing arts in Southwest Florida, may have potentially violated Florida and federal laws by allegedly discriminating against them and terminating their employment due to the organization's COVID-19 vaccination requirement. The three individuals were musicians who had been part of the Naples Philharmonic for a total of 82 years. As individuals who adhere to their Christian beliefs, they choose not to receive the COVID injections due to their concerns about the use of aborted fetal cells in the development process. 

The lawsuit is scheduled to proceed to trial in the district court. 

In October 2021, Artis-Naples allegedly responded to the employees' religious exemption requests by placing them on an involuntary, partially paid leave of absence, which resulted in them being unable to work. On May 16, 2022, Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to Artis-Naples requesting the reinstatement of three employees to their full-time positions with the orchestra. 

However, Artis-Naples allegedly declined to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees and allegedly did not adhere to the specific requirements of Florida law regarding religious exemptions. Additionally, the employees allegedly were not allowed to take the same alternative precautions that Artis-Naples allowed its patrons to take while attending concerts and being in close proximity to the musicians. 

The employees of Artis-Naples were terminated as of June 30, 2022, and Artis-Naples Philharmonic did not respond to Liberty Counsel's demand letter. The Naples Philharmonic is being accused of potentially violating Title VII, a federal law, as well as Florida law, which requires employers to provide accommodations for employees who have religious objections to receiving COVID shots. 

According to Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, it is believed that Artis-Naples is potentially violating state and federal laws by not taking into account the religious beliefs of its employees. He sees this recent court ruling as a positive development, suggesting that justice may be served for the musicians involved. 

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