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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Shea's and Michael Murphy settle

Business First Reports that La Commedia è Finita

As quietly as the saga began, the controversial departure of Michael Murphy from Shea's Performing Arts Center, under a cloud of staff complaints and angry recriminations, is over, according to a report by Tracey Drury, today in "Business First."

"Attorneys for the downtown theater company and for Murphy both confirmed the lawsuit has been resolved and is now listed as disposed by the court system."

There are no details of the settlement.

After Murphy was dismissed in October 2022, his attorney, Lisa Coppola of the Coppola firm, submitted a complaint reading, in part:

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 detailed 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.”

Murphy sought not less than $2,414,000 in judgement against Shea's.

Business first reports that a "stipulation of discontinuance was filed with the State Supreme Court in Erie County on April 7, [2023]." While conventional wisdom in the community was that the charge of anti-gay discrimination had no merit, any insight into the settlement would seem to be total speculation. Shea's is left with a reshuffled board, minus some of Buffalo's most influential corporate entities, and having lost M&T as the sponsor of its Broadway series, which will now be named after the new sponsor, Five Star Bank.

Shea's has announced its 2023-2024 season and they say they intend to embark on a national search for a new leader.


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