Baltimore Symphony fires flutist who shared COVID conspiracy theories
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Baltimore Symphony fires flutist who shared COVID conspiracy theories
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, in Baltimore on June 27, 2019. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra said on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, that it had fired a musician who provoked controversy earlier this year when she shared COVID-19 conspiracy theories and other misinformation on social media. Shawn Hubbard/The New York Times.

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Thursday said it had fired a musician who provoked controversy earlier this year when she shared COVID-19 conspiracy theories and other misinformation on social media.

Emily Skala, 59, the orchestra’s principal flutist for more than three decades, shared posts casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccines and masks. Her posts drew criticism from musicians, audience members and donors in Baltimore and beyond.

The orchestra said it was dismissing Skala because she had repeatedly violated its policies, although it did not offer details except to say that the problems went beyond social media posts. Skala said in an interview that the orchestra’s leaders had also accused her of breaching safety protocols by not submitting to coronavirus tests before visiting the Baltimore Symphony’s offices in the spring.

“Unfortunately, she has repeated the conduct for which she had been previously disciplined, and dismissal was the necessary and appropriate reaction to this behavior,” Peter Kjome, the orchestra’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The dispute is unfolding amid a heated debate over the rights of individuals as local governments and businesses work to bring the pandemic under control by imposing mask mandates and requiring vaccines. There are also widespread concerns about the rapid spread of anti-vaccine messaging on social media platforms.

Skala vowed to challenge her dismissal, saying the orchestra had created a hostile environment. She said she was being attacked for expressing unpopular views and that the orchestra’s leaders failed to protect her from harassment.

“When you’re a target, every day is a trap,” Skala said in the interview. “They just punish me for being me.”

Skala said she was working with the Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, the union that represents the orchestra’s players, to file a formal grievance. The union declined to comment.

Orchestra players are often tenured, like university professors, and have strong protections against being fired. But businesses often have wide latitude to dismiss employees they consider to be troublesome, so long as they do so in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, legal experts say.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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