INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – The 62-year-old lead bassoonist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra claims in a federal lawsuit that his young conductor tried to force him out of his position because of his age.
John Wetherill has been employed by the city’s symphony for 27 years, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the symphony for what he claims has been years of allowed age discrimination and retaliation.
According to a 17-page lawsuit filed Thursday in Indianapolis federal court, the problems began in May 2012, when the newly hired Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski invited several symphony musicians for impromptu meetings. The musicians were all over the age of 45, Wetherill says.
The now 34-year-old Urbanski, who has also conducted the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, allegedly threatened Wetherill and questioned him about other musicians.
Then, in October 2013, Wetherill claims Urbanski suggested that he step down from his top spot as first bassoon “in order to nurture a younger player into principal chair.”
The lawsuit claims Urbanski told Wetherill “that this was the way it was done in Europe.”
When Wetherill did not step down, he claims Urbanski began to target him directly in attempts to publically humiliate him.
The bassoonist alleges that in February 2015, Urbanski made a surprise demo performance request at the beginning of a concert in front of a live audience. The request required a specific reed piece for Wetherill’s instrument, which he luckily had brought with him.
Wetherill says he avoided public humiliation in front of the live audience even though, according to the complaint, Urbanski’s actions “were intended to make plaintiff’s performances more difficult as a formula to create stress and enhance the chances for his potential failure during the concert.”
The complaint details another incident during rehearsals, in which the conductor claimed Wetherill was out of tune. The criticism allegedly continued even when Wetherill’s instrument was silent.
Interwoven between the alleged events, Wetherill filed an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit claims that after Wetherill filed his age discrimination complaint he was suspended for two-weeks without pay, under the pretense of using an electronic tuner device during rehearsal and informing Urbanski of the accuracy of his played notes via the tuner.
“The Symphony Society’s suspension of plaintiff was in support of the long standing desire and intent to harass, intimidate, humiliate, demean and otherwise force the departure or demotion of musicians over the age of 40 years (all of whom are also over 45), and replace them with younger musicians,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)
Urbanski is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. A spokesperson from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra told Courthouse News that it “is not able to provide comment on this personnel matter.”
Wetherill is represented by Indianapolis attorney David Wright, from the law firm of Kroger, Gardis & Regas LLP.