Ex-Pasadena Symphony music director sues over vaccine mandate
A former music director for the Pasadena Symphony Association who is member of Church of Christ, Scientist, is suing the association, alleging he was wrongfully stripped of his job in 2021 for seeking a religious and medical exemption to its mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy.
David Lockington’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, religious discrimination, harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment and various state Labor Code violations. Lockington seeks unspecified damages along with a court order directing that he be reinstated and given the proper religious accommodations.
A symphony association representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Wednesday.
Lockington, 61, has a 35-year conducting career and previously was the music director for the Modesto Symphony, New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan, the suit states. He took the Grand Rapids orchestra to Carnegie Hall and produced five recordings, including “Invention & Alchemy,” which was nominated for a Grammy, the suit states.
Lockington was hired by the Pasadena Symphony Association in 2013 and his tenure as music director “was characterized by consistent artistic success, which the defendants were happy to proclaim,” the suit states.
Lockington’s position was a salaried, management position, essentially equal with that of CEO, the suit states.
During the fall of 2020, while pandemic restrictions were in place both nationally and locally, Lockington was required to travel monthly from his Indiana home to California for work-related activities, including meeting with potential donors for lunches and receptions, during which time Lockington was regularly tested, wore a mask and practiced social distancing, the suit states.
At that time, the symphony musicians complained that inadequate safety measures had been implemented and pressured management to provide larger rehearsal spaces and screens where they could better engage in social distancing, the suit states.
Lora Unger, the Pasadena Symphony Association’s CEO, responded by cursing the musicians and their union, despite Lockington’s pleas to take their concerns seriously, the suit states.
In May 2021, Unger sent Lockington an email stating that all Pasadena Symphony Association employees were being required to have a coronavirus vaccination and an association attorney later stated that his request for a religious and medical exemption was invalid because he was an independent contractor and not an employee, the suit states.
“That defendants played the independent contractor card even before any meeting or in-person discussion had taken place sent a clear signal that their position was dug in and they were not interested in any compromise or negotiation,” the suit states.
Lockington formally submitted his exemption request in June 2021, identifying himself as a Christian Science member who believes in the natural healing of the body, according to the suit, which also states he refused to have his children vaccinated against diseases 30 years earlier.
The symphony association denied Lockington a religious accommodation that conformed with city of Pasadena guidelines for indoor events as well as any other accommodation that would have permitted him to continue as music director, proposing instead only an unpaid leave of absence for an indefinite period of time, the suit states.
“Subsequently, defendants terminated and/or constructively terminated Lockington’s employment, thereby also breaching his employment contract, and violating his rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act,” the suit alleges.