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. “People can be fired if what they say or how they behave is disruptive to the purpose or the culture,” Kathleen Cahill, an employment lawyer in Maryland, said in an interview. “Employees often don’t have the ‘freedom’ and ‘First Amendment rights’ they think they do.”
Amid the pandemic, employers will likely have even greater latitude to require employees to follow policies designed to keep workplaces safe, Cahill added.
Skala shared false theories suggesting that the coronavirus was created in a laboratory in North Carolina; she also shared posts raising concerns about the safety of vaccines. In the interview, she said she suffered from autoimmune disorders and was distressed by efforts to mandate vaccines. She said she did not believe she was required to get tested for Covid-19 before visiting the orchestra’s offices to meet with staff there, since she had been suspended and was no longer performing.
“I’ve been misunderstood,” she said. “I feel I am standing in truth.”
Earlier this year, Skala angered many of her colleagues for sharing posts questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election. She was also criticized for saying that Black families needed to do more to support their children’s classical music studies in emails to colleagues about efforts to increase diversity at the Baltimore Symphony. (The emails were later leaked and posted on Twitter.) She also described in one of the leaked messages feeling discrimination early in her career as “a female gentile in a flute section of middle- to old-aged Jewish men.”
The orchestra did not mention those comments in dismissing Skala. But in February, when Skala’s remarks about the coronavirus and election fraud began to circulate, it issued a statement distancing itself. “Ms. Skala does not speak for the B.S.O., nor do her statements reflect our core values or code of conduct grounded in humanity and respect,” the orchestra said at the time.
Skala’s critics said they were pleased with the orchestra’s decision to dismiss her. Melissa Wimbish, a soprano in Baltimore, posted the leaked emails on Twitter in February. Wimbish, who has performed with the orchestra, also organized an online petition calling for Skala to be punished, which gathered more than 1,000 signatures.
“They have this responsibility to react to these statements and distance themselves,” Wimbish said in an interview, referring to the orchestra’s leaders. “It’s good to see there’s some justice.”