The 2/21/22 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a pair of articles by Katelyn Newberg and John Katsilometes, respectively, that reports on a lawsuit filed by former Las Vegas Philharmonic (LV Phil) executive director, Anne Berquist, against her former employer.
According to the articles, Berquist alleges insurance fraud and discriminatory practices. Excerpts of the complaint are published in the 2/18/22 edition of Slippedisc.com.
During the pandemic, the LV Phil followed suit of many orchestras and instituted pay cuts. Berquist claims board chair Jeri Crawford selected some, but not all, employees to receive additional payments to cover those cuts.
This is where things get interesting because Berquist’s suit alleges the orchestra failed to report those payments or pay employment taxes.
Additionally, Katsilometes’ article reports that Berquist claims the board chair instructed her to keep knowledge of a $250,000 Shuttered Venue Operators Grant the organization received in November from the full board and employees.
According to Newberg’s article, Berquist reported the alleged financial misconduct and related retaliatory actions against her by the board chair to the full board. Berquist asserts she was subsequently terminated after making clear her intent to report the alleged misconduct to governmental agencies.
In December, Berquist sent a letter to the board reporting the “financial misconduct and the retaliatory conduct,” the suit states. Berquist was later placed on administrative leave and was fired Jan. 25 following a mediation meeting with Crawford that “concluded without a settlement.”
“The LVP terminated Ms. Berquist in retaliation for Ms. Berquist’s refusal to participate in the Financial Misconduct and Ms. Berquist’s stated intention to report Financial Misconduct to the appropriate governmental authorities,” the suit states.
It will be fascinating to see if Berquist asserts any whistleblower protections afforded to nonprofit employees via the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. If so, it introduces the potential for added criminal penalties for retaliation.
Given the nature of some allegations, it appears that Berquist should have a comparatively straightforward time quantifying her claims and a court will determine their validity.
By the time it concludes, the case could serve as a benchmark for whistleblower protections as applied to the nonprofit performing arts sector. According to court records, the next scheduled event for case A-22-848273-B in the Eighth Judicial District Count is 4/20/22 where the court will consider Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction.