Met Opera to Pay $3.5M in Settlement with Fired Maestro

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A confidentiality agreement, that kept the Metropolitan Opera and renowned conductor James Levine from revealing the details of their settlement, has expired. Photo Credit: AP

By Ellen Cans

A confidentiality agreement, that kept the Metropolitan Opera and renowned conductor James Levine from revealing the details of their settlement, has expired.  The details of the settlement are now trickling in.  As reported by the NY Times, the Met and its insurer agreed to pay Mr. Levine $3.5 million to conclude the court battle which was ignited when he was fired for allegations of sexual misconduct.

For more than four decades Levine molded the Metropolitan Opera as lead maestro.  Then in 2018, after allegations and an internal audit, the Met fired Levine without pay, citing credible evidence of “sexually abusive and harassing conduct toward vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers.”  Levine, 77, fought back. Denying all allegations, he sued the Met for breach of contract and defamation, seeking over $5.8 million.  That included compensation for his $400,000 annual salary as music director emeritus, of which he had eight years remaining on his 10-year contract. It also included roughly $1.6 million for the remaining performances he was scheduled to conduct in the following seasons, and more for other lost jobs due to the negative publicity, defamation, pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees.  The Opera house countersued for close to that amount.

The court case was opened and Levine defended himself publicly.  After a whole year of battling in the court room and after each side had spent millions in legal fees, the Met decided to seek a settlement, agreeing to pay Mr. Levine an undisclosed amount, which was pronounced to be less than what he had sought.  The details of that agreement have now been revealed.

In a recent article in the NY Times, the author wrote, “The size of the payment to Mr. Levine, whom the Met had accused of serious misconduct, casts doubt on the strength of the company’s case had it gone to trial”.  Levine’s contract clearly lacked any moral clause, which would serve to prohibit certain behavior that could embarrass an employer.  Moral clauses are now becoming a common addition in contracts in the entertainment sector.

The Met Opera’s insurance was responsible for covering the company’s litigation costs, which totaled over $1.8 million in 2019, only some of which was related to the Levine investigation. Their insurance also covered over $900,000 of the payout to Mr. Levine, as per the Times which cited a source who was familiar with the details.   The Met, now shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is responsible for approximately $2.6 million.

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