A judge has ruled against Apple Studios in a lawsuit brought forth by actor Brent Sexton, who alleged discrimination after his role offer in the series “Manhunt” was withdrawn due to his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine on medical grounds.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield rejected Apple’s attempt to dismiss the case on free speech grounds, stating that the company’s mandatory vaccination policy may have violated constitutional rights. This decision, issued on October 19, is a noteworthy development in a rare instance where an actor contested a studio’s refusal to make accommodations for vaccine refusal.
The judge emphasized a crucial distinction between government-enforced vaccination mandates and a company’s internal policy making it a condition of employment, asserting that Apple’s stance may have overstepped constitutional boundaries.
Brent Sexton, slated to play Andrew Johnson in “Manhunt,” had agreed to a substantial contract of $85,000 per episode with additional incentives for a minimum of seven episodes. Notably, at the time of Sexton’s agreement, Apple did not require vaccines for employees at its corporate or retail locations, permitting alternative measures like regular testing.
However, Apple Studios, aligning with most Hollywood production houses, introduced vaccine mandates for lead actors and essential crew members working in high-risk areas of the set. Sexton’s refusal to be vaccinated, due to a pre-existing health condition flagged by his doctor, led to the dissolution of his contract. He subsequently sued Apple for failing to accommodate his situation, contending that the company’s policy violated his constitutional rights.
Judge Linfield maintained that the case did not merit dismissal under California’s anti-SLAAP statute, designed to safeguard free speech from baseless legal action. He underscored that the circumstances surrounding the pandemic in 2022 were markedly different from the previous year, potentially affecting the reasonableness of implementing such policies.
Crucially, Sexton’s medical condition emerged as a pivotal factor in advancing the lawsuit. His doctor’s professional opinion was that vaccination posed a significant risk, given the potential side effects. The doctor pointed out that two major complications associated with COVID-19 vaccines—thrombocytopenia and blood clots—were already present in Sexton’s medical history, further underscoring the danger.
Judge Linfield also highlighted evidence suggesting that Sexton could have safely participated in the production with daily COVID-19 testing, countering Apple’s argument about his ability to perform in the role of President Andrew Johnson while wearing a mask.
This legal setback for Apple Studios comes in the wake of a series of lawsuits from actors denied exemptions from mandatory vaccine mandates. Notably, actor Ingo Rademacher, known for his longstanding role in “General Hospital,” and former “911” actor Rockmond Dunbar, also faced legal challenges. Unlike Sexton, Rademacher’s objection was based on religious grounds, and his case was dismissed in June after ABC refused to grant him an exemption. Apple Studios has yet to respond to requests for comment on the ruling.