Claims anti-gay discrimination, retaliation, and defamation
MICHAEL G. MURPHY v. SHEA’S-O’CONNELL PRESERVATION GUILD
If there was any doubt about whether he resigned or was fired, that ambiguity ended when Michael G. Murphy filed suit against his former employee Shea's-O'Connell Preservation Guild today, stating that he was summoned to the Buffalo Club, "summarily fired" in "a very public and extremely degrading manner."
The complaint reads:
Michael Murphy is a 61-year old gay man, who has devoted his life to theatre. Just over six years ago, he gave up his lucrative and prestigious job in California to return to Western New York and serve Shea’s. And serve he did. Because of Murphy’s leadership, Shea's went into the worldwide pandemic with a $2 million surplus and emerged with a $6 million surplus. Shea’s emergence with the $6 million surplus came even after paying $1.3 million in cash to purchase 505 Pearl Street from the Croce Estate, which in and of itself was a huge success for Shea’s, and was driven by Murphy. Season subscriptions skyrocketed. But after Murphy poured his heart and soul into Shea’s and helped it survive the pandemic, he was summarily fired on October 19, 2022. Eight months after some employees began making allegations in dog-whistle terms that would have been deemed complimentary of a straight man and three months after his counsel raised this anti-gay conduct to Shea’s lawyer, Shea’s Board of Trustees bought into the bigoted conduct and fired him in a very public and extremely degrading manner.
Murphy brings this action against Shea’s for breach of contract, discrimination on the basis of Murphy’s being gay, retaliation on the basis of Murphy’s participation in the protected activity of reporting and opposing discrimination and harassment, violation of New York Labor Law, and defamation.
The complaint further details that, “In connection with his employment with Shea’s, Murphy was subjected to discrimination on the basis of being gay and to retaliation because he reported and opposed the discrimination he experienced at Shea’s. The discrimination and retaliation was in violation of the New York Human Rights Law.”
And so, after weeks of silence, Murphy has spoken and the strategy is clear. The complaint details his accomplishments as president of Shea's and previously unreported details about the behind the scenes maneuvering during the recent months of turmoils, including unabridged private communications between Murphy and members of the Shea's board of trustees.
For example: "On August 25, 2022, [Jon] Dandes sent a text message to Murphy saying: they are gutless…and only get obnoxious when they’re watching each other perform!!!!!! We’re all over this! I only feel bad because you don’t deserve the aggravation…and rest assured that the 4 or 5 assholes only speak for themselves! My phone has been blowing up from across the community with support and love for you!!!!"
And so we begin to hear Murphy's side of the story for the first time. The staff version of events and the version detailed in Murphy's complaint have one theme in common: woeful lapses in governance on the part of the Shea's Board of Trustees.
Murphy is unequivocal in the remedy he seeks:
WHEREFORE, Murphy demands judgment against Shea’s:
(a) on the first cause of action in an amount not less than $264,000;
(b) on the second cause of action in an amount not less than $1,000,000;
(c) on the third cause of action in an amount not less than $1,000,000;
(d) on the fourth cause of action in an amount not less than $150,000;
(e) on the fifth cause of action in an amount in excess of the jurisdictional limits of all lower courts; and
(f) that includes such other, further, or different relief as the Court may deem just and proper, together with attorneys’ fees, costs, and disbursements of the action as permitted by statute and otherwise.
A pdf of the complaint is embedded below.