Sexual harassment is unfortunately still a common occurrence in the entertainment industry. New York City sexual harassment attorneys have represented plaintiffs in television, film, music, and theater, to name only a few areas. In August 2019, several individuals involved with opera productions around the country came forward with allegations that a famous male opera singer had sexually harassed them. By mid-September, the number had grown to twenty women, including opera singers, dancers, and others. The Associated Press (AP) reported that the singer’s alleged harassment “was an open secret,” and that “young women were left to fend for themselves in the workplace.” In late September, the singer announced that he was withdrawing from an upcoming production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera (the “Met”).
Employment laws all over the country prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, and include sexual harassment in this category of discrimination. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits multiple forms of sexual harassment. One form, known as hostile work environment, occurs when “unwelcome…conduct of a sexual nature…creat[es] an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3). An employer is typically liable for hostile work environment when the perpetrator is a manager or supervisor. If the unwelcome sexual conduct comes from a co-worker, customer, client, or other individual in the workplace, an employer may be held liable if they knew about the conduct and failed to take reasonable actions to prevent it.
The allegations against the opera singer are reminiscent in some ways of the allegations against the Hollywood film producer that launched the #MeToo movement. The producer’s behavior was also described as an “open secret.” Aspiring actresses were reportedly warned about him and advised about ways to avoid his advances. At the same time, the perception was often that acceding to requests—or demands—for sexual activity were a requirement for entry into Hollywood. This is how the term “casting couch” came about.
The opera singer at the center of the current scandal occupies a similar position. He has performed in operas around the world for decades, and has served as general director of opera organizations in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. This gives him considerable power and authority, which can lead many people to believe that turning down his advances, or reporting harassment that they experienced or witnessed, could damage their careers. One AP report mentions accounts from “backstage employees” who “strove to shield young women from the star as administrators looked the other way.” It goes on to discuss how “the need for women to come up with their own avoidance strategies just to get their jobs done” is a common feature in hostile work environments.
While he continues to deny all allegations against him, the opera singer announced in late September that he would not be appearing in the Met’s production of “Macbeth,” or in any future Met productions. According to the New York Times, multiple backstage employees expressed concern over the singer’s involvement in the production. Opera organizations in other cities have cancelled scheduled events involving the singer.
The New York City sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates help employees and job applicants assert their rights under antidiscrimination laws at the city, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.