Just in: James Levine sues the Met for unfair dismissal

Just in: James Levine sues the Met for unfair dismissal


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2018

Lawyers for the former music director of the Metropolitan Opera have filed suit in a New York court claiming unfair dismissal.

He is seeking $5.8 million in damages and the restoration of ‘Levine’s name, reputation and career.’

He alleges that the Met and its general manager Peter Gelb by ‘cynically hijacking the good will of the #MeToo movement, brazenly seized on these allegations as a pretext to end a longstanding personal campaign to force Levine out of the Met.’

It should make an interesting case.

UPDATE: The Met rebuts Levine’s claims.

UPDATE: What Levine wants.



  • Jamal Bakri says:

    “restoration of ‘Levine’s name, reputation and career.’” HAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Caravaggio says:

    This is the definition of insanity. Kicking and screaming, he won’t let go, he won’t go. This adds another unbearable burden on Gelb and his Board’s shoulders. The sooner they walk away the better. This can only get uglier.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Yes, it will. And in 10 years it’ll make the subject of a fine opera. Or at least a series on Netflix.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      Why should they walk away? The easy way out would be to reach an out of court settlement which would make this smell even more than it already does. The pressure is likely to be to do just that at which point all involved should go because having taken the action they have, belated or otherwise, buying him off would to a certain extent legitimise his claim and undermine their action. The MET’s reputation cannot really be any more damaged but they hsve to see this through as much to salvage something from this car crash.

      • Tom Inkansas says:

        He doesn’t want an out-of-court settlement; he has enough money. What he does want is a statement that all these people are lying about him. He wants his prior life back, and doesn’t realize that that ship has sailed long ago. He can ask Kevin Spacey if he doesn’t believe it.

        • EricB says:

          I don’t think he even believes his previous life can be restored. He just wants to take Gelb down with him. I probably would too, after the big hypocrit public statement of “oh, but we’ve known nothing for 30 years!”)

  • Rob says:

    Götterdämmerung ?

  • Thomasina says:

    Is there a possibility that he will win the case?

    • Lester Sgnab says:

      That would require the details of the investigation to be made public- would it not? I can’t imagine the maestro wants all that dragged through the press. It feels like a token move to save face that gets settled way before it gets to a judge.

      • pooroperaman says:

        Or he’s very confident that there’s nothing to drag. Either way, it’s an extremely brave move against the bullies of metoo.

        • Tom Inkansas says:

          Oh, you mean the “bullies” who are trying to get people to stop hitting on them in order to keep their jobs? Those bullies? Oh, their moxie knows no bounds!

          Really, what planet do you live on?

    • The View from America says:


    • Mark says:

      Actually, assuming that his contract has no provision for his dismissal under such circumstances, he does have a very good case. And he has outstanding lawyers – Elkan Abramowitz and Edward Little. These gentlemen are legal sharks of the highest order.
      Anyway, good luck to Maestro Levine !

  • Caravaggio says:

    The fact remains that no lawyer and no amount of money and hustling will restore JL’s name, reputation and career. But Gelb and the Board, accomplices and enablers, they, by failing to do part of their jobs in not securing a safe work environment in timely fashion, must go. And although this all started long before Gelb, Gelb and his Board is all we have. Unfair? Maybe. Reckless? Yes, of their making.

    • EricB says:

      Yep. And that’s most probably one of the reasons for Levine to want a public investigation on his case.

      • Bill Ecker says:

        Nah, he’s looking for a settlement. This suit will never see the light of day. The only way he will see cash is if he has evidence of a cover-up by the board. One might expect he does.

        • EricB says:

          Yeah but the evidence of a cover-up means big trouble for Gelb. And that’s probably the only thing he wants now.

  • The View from America says:

    Fasten your seat-belts, folks — it’s going to be one helluva ride.

    • erich says:

      The only winners here will be the avaricious lawyers.

      • laurie says:

        the civil court calendar in the US is backed up for years. this is going to be hanging over the Met for a very long time unless they settle just to get rid of the case. The problem with that of course is that JL is not just asking for money; the restoration part of the demand seems impossible without the Met denying the results of their investigation. isn’t it?

        • Caravaggio says:

          And if they settle out of court, what with ever declining subscriptions, attendance and interest in the artform, not to mention declining vocal and artistic standards, well, does not take a genius to figure out the math.

        • Mark says:

          Not necessarily, Laurie – let’s say, Levine prevails on a contractual claim, but loses on the tort one. The net result would be that his contract is still valid and the Met has to either restore him to his position or pay him off, even if the results of the investigation are not challenged.
          Also, the Met investigation (or any internal investigation) doesn’t necessarily satisfy the burden of evidence (both from a procedural and the substantive point of view) necessary in actual legal proceedings.
          There are several possible outcomes on the torts (e.g. defamation or tortious interference with context) claim Levine might assert:
          1. Levine’s lawyers successfully challenge enough of the evidence presented by the Met for the Met to offer Levine generous terms, without admitting any intent to defame or interfere with a contractual relationship.
          2. Levine’s lawyers mange to paint the Met’s investigation as a conspiracy to defame and get rid of Levine, in which case the Met will be at his mercy.
          3. The Met investigation’s evidence holds up in court, and the court finds for the defendant.

          • laurie says:

            Mark would the Met have to present the results of its investigation during discovery re the tort claim? If so, what happens with any promises of keeping accusers’ names secret?

            And if there is some moral turpitude clause in Levine’s contract, would not the tort aspects be subsumed into the contract claim?

          • Mark says:

            Laurie, obviously the Met’s investigation will be discoverable. Even if there are confidentiality agreements between the witnesses and the Met, Levine’s lawyer will claim that his right to challenge the accusers and allegedly defamatory statements trumps the confidentiality agrreements (besides, most NDAs contain a clause to the effect that a statutory provision or a court order enables a party to disclose the information that is the subject of the NDA)

            Yes, the issue of the morals clause (if it exists) would turn on the occurrence of the conditions precedent to the triggering of such a clause. Levine’s lawyers can still assert alternative claims and try to convince the court that the available evidence isn’t sufficient for the dismissal under the morals clause.
            Besides, I am pretty sure that such a clause in his employment agreement would have a very high triggering threshold (e.g. an indictment).

          • Sharon says:

            Don’t you believe that the Met offered Levine some sort of a settlement, of course not publicly, for breaking the contract when they first told him that he was fired, especially if the “moral turpitude” clause in the contract has as high a threshold as you say? How could they not have? Wouldn’t the Met’s lawyers know that if a settlement was not offered Levine might sue just for breach of contract apart from the other issues? Do you believe that Levine might be suing primarily because he believed that the money offered for the breach of contract was insufficient? As

          • Mark says:

            Sharon, difficult to say. The Met might have thought that in the present-day atmosphere (MeToo etc.) Levine won’t fight back. They also might have offered him a smaller settlement.
            As one can assert several claims in a law suit, he might sue both for damages and specific performance (a legal term meaning requesting the court to order the defendant to adhere to the contract, i.e. return Levine to his duties at the Met). The courts generally prefer awarding financial damages, but this is an unusual case because of the circumstances.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Mark: Won’t Levine have to show he is capable of performing his duties? If he can’t show himself to be capable of performing his duties then surely his claim (except the “good name” part) must fail regardless of anything else?

      • EricB says:

        “Avaricious lawyers”….

        Hmmmmm, did you think “rapacious jews” ?

  • Herr Doktor says:

    This is the definition of the word chutzpah.

    • Kwonco says:

      Perhaps meshugge is closer to the truth
      Gelb will not be gelb: more like tarred and feathered and run out of town, along with his chevre. Follow the money. Will the Met survive

  • Gart says:

    Rather like Oscar Wilde suing the Marquis of Queensbury for defamation…

  • John Marks says:

    I can only think of the “Untergang” Hitler-movie re-subtitling parodies…

    Such as: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNmcf4Y3lGM

    If a “hick from the sticks” such as myself, had, 25 or more years ago, heard about “The Jimmy Fund,” how did the Met not know?

    Gib mir ein break, I say in Gaelish.


  • Melissa Barnett says:

    I’m sorry but did the ability to say no come second to the fact that these kids would obviously do anything even things that they didn’t like to pleas this person. Why is it completely his fault?. The were enthral surely but are they really willing to admit they lost their reason. After decades they are now coming forth to say they had no ability to think for themselves. So much of what has been said is so perverse, we’re they not willing to do whatever it took to get ahead.

    • LAK says:

      Victim blaming 101!!

      You assume these people who have come forward were “willing to do whatever it took to get ahead”. Did you ever consider that they gave into Levine not because they wanted to further their careers but because they feared losing the careers they already had? Or feared being blackballed within the industry because they said no to a man with immense power and influence?

    • Brunnhilde says:

      Just about had it. Yes, these “kids” wanted to glory of being close to James Levine. Maybe Levine is a creep. But I hope he wins his case.

    • Tom Inkansas says:

      Melissa, at first I thought you were playing Devil’s Advocate, but you expressed the same idea twice, so let me suggest a beginning to how off-base this point of view is. These kids believed they’d earned something, their lives were headed in a certain direction, and this much older, immensely powerful guy tries to pressure them into a variety of sexual acts. WHY DOES ANYONE NEED TO PUT UP WITH THAT AS PART OF THEIR JOB? Or in any aspect of their education or evaluation as professionals?

      These people weren’t equals. This wasn’t some jerk hitting on them at a bar. It was someone with the power to potentially destroy their dreams forever. Just Saying No is saying No to everything they’d actually earned. If they came onto him hoping for advancement it would be another story. But that’s very, very clearly not what happened.

  • Melissa Barnett says:

    I’m sorry but did the ability to say no come second to the fact that these kids would obviously do anything even things that they didn’t like to pleas this person. Why is it completely his fault?. The were enthral surely but are they really willing to admit they lost their reason. After decades they are now coming forth to say they had no ability to think for themselves. So much of what has been said is so perverse, we’re they not willing to do whatever it took to get ahead.

  • Michael says:

    What a disgusting human being!

    Now that he’s finished as a sexual predator, his new outlet is to be a predator of the Met, meaning — ultimately the audience that doesn’t want its opera house bankrupted.

    • EricB says:

      Well, that’s the man : his ego is so high that he probably thinks he “made the Met”, and thus thinks he can “unmake” (destroy) it all by himself.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    If Levine looses in court, who pays the MET’s legal fees?

    • laurie says:

      The Met. Generally in the US, unlike the UK, each side pays its own fees. However if the court decides a law suit is utterly without foundation/ frivolous the loser might end up having to pay. Unlikely though.

      • MWnyc says:

        The Met’s liability insurer might well pay.

        That, in fact, may be what this is all about: to get the insurance company to cover it.

  • torinese says:

    The point here is that Levine has leverage. His dirt is (mostly) already out there; theirs is not. Discovery, depositions, and a trial could expose it. They’ll settle. There’s probably already a mega-donor lined up to take care of it.

  • Nick2 says:

    This will never get to court. One of the Board’s cronies will arrange an out of court settlement and there will be smiles all round. Until heads start rolling, that is!

    The sad part is that until this comes to a conclusion, I cannot see the Board daring to get rid of Gelb. Would that not be tantamount to an admission that he knew what was going on and turned a blind eye?

    • Mark says:

      Nick, Levine doesn’t need the money – he is a very wealthy man. The $$ is there because you have to assert damages in a lawsuit of this nature.

  • potter says:

    As much as I’m appalled by what Levine and his enablers have done, I still feel sorry for the man. Living right now, stripped of his entire life, must be the equivalent of hell for him.

  • Bylle Binder says:

    I’d say the shit has hit the fan – and now I’m going to buy some coke and pop corn.

  • Sam Tellig says:

    Is Jimmy going to sue the BSO, too?

    Dementia can accompany Parkinson’s Disease.

    • MacroV says:

      Probably no basis to. Their relationship is done, and the BSO has no obligation to engage him again. OTOH, Levine still had a relationship with the MET.

  • Sharon says:

    Wow!!! This I NEVER expected!! I would have thought that if Levine believed that the allegations were false Levine would have sued some of his accusers for slander, not that they had any money but this would have been the only way (or so I thought) to clear Levine’s reputation.
    However, if money is not the issue, what would be gained by an out of court settlement with a non disclosure agreement that the Met is sure to demand if they were to settle? How would that clear Levine’s name with the public or in the arts world? At the same time, neither side can afford, in time, reputation, and money, to have a public trial or a settlement with public disclosure. Although Levine might not be all that rational about this his attorneys surely would be.
    So, could this be about money after all? Could the reason that the Met was so quick to let him go was because they felt that he was not earning his keep if he demanded such a high salary as a maestro emeretus working only about 200 hrs a year (or less) for them?
    That Levine would not negotiate down a salary demand, especially if he is only there part time, appears strange, however, since Levine seemed like the type of guy who might donate a lot of his salary back to the Met, or so it seemed to me. Also if money IS an issue for a case like this lawyers might charge 2 million of the 5.8 million that he is requesting which undoubtedly would be negotiated down.
    On the other hand, although it appeared that Levine lived relatively simply for a maestro domo, I know that as a nurse his nurses, carers wheel chair van drivers, etc could be a $1000 a day operation since the health care agencies who supply the staff charge at least double what the home health staff earns, not to mention costs for accommodations when Levine travels. Levine also spent two years with little salary recovering from his back injury. Is Levine worried, maybe irrationally, about his financial future and that of his family (mother, brother, Sue Thompson) and being able to stay out of a nursing home? Strange, strange, strange.
    Could this be turned into a disability rights discrimination case?
    On the plus side anyone who has been following the Levine thread knows that I am worried about him falling into depression or even becoming suicidal. As long as he remains feisty and and is tied up with this fight he will not fall into despair. However, if he loses I still fear what will happen.
    In interviews Levine has stated that although he might work elsewhere from time to time he would always be “married” to the Met. Now he knows what it feels like to be a jilted lover who thought he had his spouse’s love and loyalty forever when the spouse was only using him while it was convenient for her to do so and when he got to old to be an attraction was pushed aside. Indeed, Levine is in the same position as Ashok Pai and Levine’s other twinks and now probably feels the same as they did after Levine pushed or tapered them out of his life. What poetic justice!
    I do hope, however, that whatever eventually happens that both sides will be able to put this beside them and move forward

  • Sanity says:

    The psychiatric research on those who engage in abuse and sexual predation is well-established; they are often intransigent in their insistence upon their innocence. I do not know where Levine’s crimes rest on the spectrum, nor do I know his current state of mind; but I can quite imagine that he will insist upon his innocence, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

    This is a very sad, but necessary day. And Levine is the tip of the iceberg.

  • Sharon says:

    Although Levine might believe in his own innocence wouldn’t his lawyers advise him that to sue on the grounds of slander or the equivalent would be very expensive, time consuming, and emotionally stressful?

    • Sanity says:

      They might do; but in the end a client instructs and the lawyer carries out that instruction.

      As has been pointed out by Mark. There is right and wrong, then there is the Law…

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    I admire & respect James Levine for taking this action and wish him well. Any individual is innocent until proved guilty.

    • MacroV says:

      Yes he is. But you don’t have to be guilty in a court of law to be dismissed from employment.

      • Mark says:

        In the case of employment-at-will, yes.
        But since Levine has a contract, the provisions of the contract will govern.

    • mathias broucek says:

      Innocent until PROVEN guilty applies in criminal law and this isn’t a criminal matter

      But even if you believe that employment relationships should follow this rule, how can you “wish him well” unless you believe that none of what is alleged happened?

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        Of course the same principle should apply in all circumstances. It is good that the legality of Mr Levine’s being fired will be tested in court. So, yes, I do wish him well and have no reason not to wish him well. I don’t judge people without evidence and I prefer the rule of law to mob rule. I would love Mr Levine’s legal team to go after some of the people posting their sick, libelous comments on this website. Maybe they will in time…………..

        • Tom Inkansas says:

          It’s odd how powerful people engender this sort of kneejerk loyalty. His predilections have been ALLEGEDLY (I put that in to avoid overzealous legal eagles) known for, oh, 30 years, and have been talked about endlessly. Yes, it’s painful to accept that he will have to answer for his misdeeds, and no one wants to see him suffer.

          But all these people — Cosby and Weinstein and Spacey and Nassar and so many others — are not the primary locus for well-wishing and understanding. Their victims are. To see all these earnest people whose careers and self-concepts were shattered as some sort of mob hell-bent on taking down Great Men is, well, it’s hard even to find a word for it.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Stephen writes: “Any individual is innocent until proven guilty”. So the Met is innocent since Levine is prosecuting them. (Actually, it is a civil case so “balance of probabilities” applies, not “innocent until proven guilty”).

  • EricB says:

    I see it this way : now that he doesn’t have anything to lose, he’ll give it a try at the slightest chance of winning his case, on strict legalistic arguments. Will the sexual agressions be so easy to prove with factual elements ?
    The other side of the matter, and not the smallest, is that this case might be an opportunity to clearly show that everyone at the Met, or at least the top management, knew about it and didn’t do a thing. So we won’t go down alone, but will grab Gelb with him to the gallows.

  • Wiener says:

    Ich hoffe er gewinnt.

  • Novagerio says:

    “The former levinites, please step forward!”


  • Mark Mortimer says:

    If this weren’t so laughable it would be sickening. The bottom line is that James Levine is a shameful child molester (or at least an habitual abuser of those barely the age of consent over a 40 year period ). As ever- him & his lawyers think the best form of defence to his wicked record of exploitation is to sue everyone in sight- including the Met. The Met would be better off compensating his victims. A pathetic end to a gifted conductor’s career. As some form of redemption Levine should do the honourable thing & refrain from legal action. Afterall- I’m sure that he’s already got quite a lot of cash stashed in the bank from his many years as one of the highest paid conductors on the planet- taking the gold whilst the international music establishment turned a blind eye to his vices.

    • Walter says:

      Thank you, Mark Mortimer, for your astute comment and observations. Levine owes at least one million dollars to each of his victims over the past 40 years.

    • Mark says:

      Unless you are the judge or the jury, your “bottom line” matters only to you and your family relations (if they pay any attention to you)

  • anon says:

    It will be easier to find a jury in Manhattan more favorable to Levine than to the Met.

    I for one if I were on the jury would find in favor of Levine.

  • Frankster says:

    And screw the damaged goods. Got it.

  • Ulysses B says:

    I have always greatly admired Mr Levine as a conductor, and I am in no position to tell whether the allegations against him are true or not. I live in Europe and all I can say is that in the eighties I did a lot of travelling all over Europe to attend opera and concert performances. Wherever I went (Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, Milan, Bayreuth…) I met a lot of music lovers, and I can tell that gossip, jokes and alleged “stories” about Mr Levine well-known taste for young boys were VERY frequent. That was in Europe, 30 years ago. So it’s simply impossible to believe that no one in Mr Levine’s professional environment knew anything about all that.
    Still, I see it this way : either the allegations are true, and I hope the victims will get fair compensation, or they are false, and I hope Mr Levine’s honor will be restored.

  • Christopher says:

    My God. What a mess.